Rub sleep from eyes, reach for phone, see the news. A familiar jolt of dread: 5 dead, 18 injured at the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, an LGBTQ nightclub. The club praises “brave” patrons who fought to subdue the gunman, later named as Anderson Lee Aldrich, who is now in custody. As ever, LGBTQ people, and/or their allies, have to defend themselves, and here two individuals have helped, through sheer bravery, to prevent an even greater loss of life.
At the time of writing, we do not know the motive of the alleged shooter. There may be a hate crime component to the investigation, prosecutors say, but whether it will ultimately stick as a charge remains to be seen and investigated.
But here again: another Sunday morning, six years after the Pulse shooting, with familiar feelings after the headlines. Heart plummets. Upset. Anger. Grief for those who you don’t know personally and also that deeper sense of knowing, because LGBTQ people know hatred, the omnipresent threat of violence—we just never know where it will flare up and affect us directly.
The worry is always there, like an inner trip wire, embedded early in our souls as queer kids. The name calling (if we are lucky), the much worse (if we are not). Life shoves us in to adulthood, and more confidence, coming out, the energy of work and play and friends and loved ones. Yet still we see it, hear it, experience the hatred every day care of the news and right-wing politicians and media muck-spreaders. Even then, there have always been the bars and clubs—the supposedly safe places we can go to kick back, like Pulse and Club Q.
In a statement, President Biden said: “While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years. Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing. We saw it six years ago in Orlando, when our nation suffered the deadliest attack affecting the LGBTQI+ community in American history. We continue to see it in the epidemic of violence and murder against transgender women—especially transgender women of color. And tragically, we saw it last night in this devastating attack by a gunman wielding a long rifle at an LGBTQI+ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
“Places that are supposed to be safe spaces of acceptance and celebration should never be turned into places of terror and violence. Yet it happens far too often. We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate.”
However, lately LGBTQ venues have been literally besieged by anti-LGBTQ activists losing their minds over drag queens reading to kids. “Groomers” has entered the bigot lexicon, screamed and bandied about recklessly.
It is for now obviously closed, but Club Q was due to hold a Transgender Day of Remembrance event today; it holds drag brunches. Look at their calendar; they were planning a Friends-giving event. As Joshua Thurman, who was there last night, said in an eloquent and unbearably moving TV interview this morning, this was the only venue for LGBTQ+ people in the area. That safe space has been shattered.
We do not yet know what made the shooter do what they did. But what LGBTQ people know keenly is how, of late, anti-LGBTQ prejudice has become more extreme and ugly, and that this has been encouraged by Republican politicians and their supportive media. They mock and make laws against us. We only hope, watching their shtick in the service of ugly prejudice, that all of the animus they gleefully peddle, pumped into TV and social media, doesn’t get us killed or injured.
When we are killed or injured, as on Sunday morning, the media is suddenly interested and concerned, like any rubberneckers at a car crash. But no wider responsibility for tampering with the brakes is considered, no grander self-examination is undertaken. The shooter is inevitably labeled a lone wolf. Mental health, mental health, becomes the Republican cry—not because they care about mental health, or even fund it properly, but because they need something to deflect from taking on any responsibility for encouraging anti-LGBTQ hatred.
Oh, and their thoughts and prayers; Lauren Boebert has already shamelessly supplied hers, despite years of anti-LGBTQ speechmaking. There will also be candles and memorials. The media will find grief-stricken loved ones and survivors, some of whom will appear on TV. Their tears will be elicited by pancake made-up, doe-eyed heterosexual anchors. Everything will be safely packaged according to the rigorous rules of grief porn—again, anything to deflect from talking about anti-LGBTQ prejudice, the laws being introduced in its name, and its effects on queer people.
There will be talk of access to guns. Maybe for a minute the homophobia and transphobia from those who have been whipping up hatred against us both rhetorically and in law—Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump, Greg Abbott, and Boebert leading the charge, and steam-powered by right wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and a right-leaning Supreme Court—will abate momentarily. It won’t last long. They will soon be itching to once attack and gaslight, for votes and money.
And even then, you think: blood has to be spilled for America even to pause to consider the bigotry against LGBTQ people, and its cost. Only a pause. And for that pathetic pause people had to die.
Those who propagate bigotry have too much riding on it to stop it. And, in a sense, do they really care that LGBTQ people are killed and injured?
Those who propagate bigotry have too much riding on it to stop it. And, in a sense, do they really care that LGBTQ people are killed and injured? They think we are sick and wrong. If they could, they would ensure we didn’t grow up to be who we are. They spend their legislative hours dreaming up ways to make our lives worse—from stopping us loving who we love to stopping kids, queer and not, from being able to access LGBTQ reading and discussion materials in schools, to fostering hatred against drag queens reading to kids, to not legislating against conversion therapy. To “groomers.”
There have been hundreds of bills targeting trans and queer young people in Republican-led state legislatures in schools, stopping them from playing sports to accessing the medically-accepted gender affirming care that could help them lead fulfilling, healthy lives.
This is rarely mentioned on mainstream news. Instead, this care has been misrepresented and its practitioners—such as at Boston Children’s Hospital—targeted by extremist threats. All the time these grandstanding bullies, J.K. Rowling among them, claim they are the victims. If anyone defends trans kids, they are targeted too. Those who have the power claim ridiculously to have none, even as they exercise it. The bully has co-opted the language and stance of the victim.
The anti-LGBTQ rhetoric of Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro and the rest continues unabated. They will take no responsibility for their part in encouraging a climate of anti-LGBTQ violence, because—like the politicians and lawmakers engaged in crafting homophobic and transphobic legislation—the cruelty and violence is the point. They want an LGBTQ population, and their allies, cowed and stripped of dignity and power. Our fear and terror is actually a perfect result for them.
What they don’t know, these bigots with guns, and those politicians at their podiums and the media bigmouths with their access to millions via their bully pulpits on TV and online, is that yes, LGBTQ people know fear and terror all too well, small scale in our communities and large scale when the media deigns to care about us when someone shoots a number of us dead in a nightclub. And also, vitally, with our friends and those we love, we know how to face it.
The most telling thing so far about the Colorado shooting is that, as the club itself indicated, the patrons fought back. The patrons dealt with the gunman to ensure that person didn’t kill more people. The police did not. At Club Q we protected ourselves as we have done for centuries and as we will continue to do so while society, and those elected to legislate and speak for us, deliberately fail to do so. Here, in this shooting, are two actual heroes—one hopes they, and the strength, resistance, and pride they showed in that nightclub on Saturday night, becomes the story.
The real challenge, as this author has written before, is for the rest of America to care enough to vote against and stop watching and supporting those engaged in this sick campaign against us. If the shooting in Colorado Springs upsets you, you need to make the connection between the actions of anti-LGBTQ politicians and those in positions of power, and violent acts carried out against LGBTQ people—and protest, vote, and fight back accordingly. LGBTQ people cannot do this alone, yet always ultimately find themselves doing just that.
Those responsible for bigotry, those who quite literally bank on it, will do all they can to neutralize any accusation of responsibility.
The media too, instead of treating politics as a horse race, should ask anti-LGBTQ politicians about their actions at every opportunity. Ask them about this tragedy; ask them about the connection between fostering hatred and these acts of hatred. Make them answerable. For LGBTQ lives to mean something, the rest of society needs to value LGBTQ life, and LGBTQ rights and equality.
This is all a likely pipe-dream. The Colorado shooting may go the way of Pulse, and have the typical life-cycle of any shooting tragedy. The state where Pulse happened, Florida, has a governor who has proudly made it a laboratory for anti-LGBTQ extremist lawmaking. He coasted to victory in his latest election, and may yet become president. Those responsible for bigotry, those who quite literally bank on it, will do all they can to neutralize any accusation of responsibility, of course.
And just the fact that it happened—that an individual feels emboldened enough to go into an LGBTQ club and kill and maim people with a gun—tells us something awful too. That just like those anti-LGBTQ politicians and media foghorns, they feel they can.
To all these people, LGBTQ lives and rights do not matter, indeed they are involved in a systematic, ongoing campaign to diminish and eradicate the few rights we have, some with guns, some with words, some with the sweep of a fountain pen as they scrawl their signature on another act of legislative prejudice. We are not even safe in the spaces we go to seeking a drink, a night out of pleasure, basic safety. A horrible war has long been declared on LGBTQ people, and right now—just as at Club Q—only LGBTQ people are defending themselves. If you genuinely care about where this hatred is heading, LGBTQ people could do with some help.