Editorial: We are angry and grieving

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022
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A crowd gathered in the Castro Sunday, November 20, to mourn those killed and injured at the Q Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo: Christopher Robledo
A crowd gathered in the Castro Sunday, November 20, to mourn those killed and injured at the Q Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo: Christopher Robledo

We are angry and grieving after another senseless mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub — a venue that is supposed to be a safe space where we can be ourselves with our queer and allied friends, family, and lovers. Like other communities that have fallen victim to hate-filled action and murder, the LGBTQ community has been subjected to violence inspired by vile speech and irrational scapegoating. We're tired of the unrelenting trampling of our rights with laws that prohibit teachers from mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity; the criminalization of gender-affirming health care; the banning of trans students from playing on sports teams that correspond with their gender; and the poisonous rhetoric that is overflowing from anti-LGBTQ politicians, religious leaders, and right-wing extremists. All of that hate has real-life consequences, as the world saw over the weekend with the November 19 mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, where five people were killed and 17 others injured. Six years ago, it was the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people lost their lives and 53 were injured.

As we wrote in June 2016 after the Pulse massacre, we will not be diminished by this senseless violence. While there is much that we don't yet know about the Club Q shooting, media outlets reported that the accused suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has been charged with five counts of suspicion of murder and five counts of bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury. This crime was doubly cruel in that it occurred on the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Club Q promoted a drag show and a punk and alternative show on Saturday night. Drag artists have been under attack for months, with some states seeking to ban drag shows under the pretense of trying to protect and prevent kids from attending them, as well as attempting to classify the artists as sex offenders. In the liberal Bay Area in June, members of the far-right Proud Boys barged into the San Lorenzo public library and harassed a drag queen reading stories to kids.

The anti-LGBTQ rhetoric espoused by conservative leaders fuels hatred and contributes to incidents like the one in Colorado Springs. Yet, it's not these leaders who are arrested and face charges because they're not pulling the trigger — it's their proxies who hear their lies and then have acted upon them by targeting minority communities in mass shooting events across the country. Colorado Springs follows a series of massacres that include Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012; Jews in Pittsburgh, in 2018; Asians in Atlanta, in 2021; and Blacks in Buffalo, New York, in 2022.

LGBTQ bars and clubs are our community institutions because, in many ways, they are among the few places where we can leave the straight world and its pressures at the door and create our own world. When it wasn't safe to hold hands with our partners in public, we'd find love on the dancefloor. When it was risky to be out at work — and it still is in many places in the U.S. — we'd meet friends there for a drink. We used the safe space of LGBTQ bars to live defiantly against the oppression outside, as we noted in 2016. In other words, we could be freely ourselves, as queer Washington Post contributing columnist Brian Broome wrote in a November 21 piece about the Club Q tragedy. "Already, queer people feel less safe in the United States now," he wrote. "I guarantee that those spaces where we feel at home in the world, the bars, the coffee shops, the clubs, will be emptier this weekend."

Colorado Springs is not the Bay Area. It's been home to a sizable evangelical Christian community for decades. Focus on the Family, one of the premiere anti-LGBTQ organizations, is based there. Of course, now that there's been a shooting at an LGBTQ club in their backyard, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly quickly put out a self-serving statement on the organization's website. "Saturday night's horrific shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart," he stated. "We must condemn in the strongest terms possible the taking of innocent life." But we can't forget that Focus on the Family once ran Love Won Out, an ex-gay ministry that it sold to Exodus International, another anti-LGBTQ organization, in 2009. It vehemently opposes same-sex marriage and even civil unions and domestic partnerships in the most vicious terms and campaigns. It consistently targets the LGBTQ community with odious lies, speech, and action. It is no friend to the LGBTQ community.

Gun violence, of course, is not limited to LGBTQ nightclubs. School shootings occur with dizzying regularity even in conservative states where lawmakers and political leaders write "thoughts and prayers" tweets then go back to verbally bashing LGBTQs and other minority groups. Even jurisdictions with gun laws do not eliminate the problem. In Colorado Springs, Aldrich reportedly evaded that state's red-flag law last year when he allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb and crisis negotiators talked him into surrendering, according to an NPR report. There's no public record that prosecutors ever moved forward with felony kidnapping and menacing charges, or that police or relatives tried to trigger the state's red-flag law that would have allowed authorities to seize his weapons, the outlet reported.

There won't be an end to these horrific shootings until there's enough political will to do so. We don't see that happening anytime soon, which only underscores the urgency required of all of us to respond by creating the world we want to live in outside of our bars. So after we mourn the loss of life and care for the people who were injured, we must commit to continue fighting for a more just country where people are celebrated for who they are, not denigrated because they don't fit someone's definition of who they should be.

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