Minutes before the start of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memory of people killed in acts of anti-transgender violence, a shooter sprayed gunfire inside a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people, injuring at least 25 and heightening the fear and heartbreak felt over and over again by the LGBTQ community.
“There are no words that will undo the horror that continues to devastate our communities,” said Nadine Bridges, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado. “Our safe spaces continue to become places of grief, trauma and sorrow due to gun violence, mass shootings and the general disrespect for our human condition.”
Police officials so far have declined to answer questions about the suspect’s motives, citing the ongoing investigation. But representatives of Club Q described the mass shooting as a hate attack.
Nationally and locally, hateful rhetoric directed toward transgender people and the broader LGBTQ community has permeated recent discourse, from church pulpits to political speeches to school board debates and libraries.
In Colorado, defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl — who serves as a University of Colorado regent — publicized during her campaign a debunked claim that Colorado students were identifying as cats and disrupting the learning environment. One Colorado described Ganahl’s claims as “a disparaging attack on LGBTQ+ youth.”
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, who won a narrow reelection victory over Democratic challenger Adam Frisch last week, has been vocal against LGBTQ and transgender issues, including in a June tweet saying “Take your children to CHURCH, not drag bars” and a 2021 speech on the House floor during which she warned of “young girls across America who will have to look behind their backs as they change in their school locker rooms just to make sure there isn’t a confused man trying to catch a peek.”
For years, controversy has surrounded all-ages drag shows at public libraries and other locations in Colorado and nationwide. Volunteers wielding rainbow umbrellas shielded children and adults from anti-LGBTQ protestors outside Denver’s Mile High Comics during its monthly drag show aimed at families.
In February, a librarian in Colorado’s High Plains Library District filed state and federal discrimination complaints alleging she was fired from her job for planning LGBTQ youth programming.
Two weeks ago, The Denver Post reported on guidance issued by the Archdiocese of Denver advising their Catholic schools not to enroll transgender students and to treat gay parents of students differently than straight couples.
Days later, young transgender students spoke before the State Board of Education, begging the seven adults to include LGBTQ history that had been stripped from proposed revisions to social study standards after Republican board members questioned whether kids learning about gay people was “indoctrination” and likened children watching a drag queen performance to “child abuse.” The board ultimately voted to restore some of the LGBTQ references to the statewide educational standards.
“You can draw a straight line from the false and vile rhetoric about LGBTQ people spread by extremists and amplified across social media, to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year, to the dozens of attacks on our community like this one,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
In the wake of the fatal shooting, the Colorado House Republicans issued a statement Sunday morning calling the shooting “incomprehensible violence.”
“We want all of those affected directly or indirectly in the LGBTQ community to know we mourn with them,” Rep. Mike Lynch, the assistant minority leader, said in a statement. “Violence has no place in a civilized society.”
Rep. Brianna Titone, Colorado’s first out transgender legislator, woke up Sunday morning in shock at the news of the massacre. Titone said she felt sick with anger and sadness.
The victims of the shooting, Titone said, did not deserve this fate for being their authentic selves.
While Titone was grateful for an influx of supportive messages Sunday from friends, community members and the House minority and assistant minority leader, she said it was vital not to ignore what led to this moment.
“Politicians and pundits have been vilifying the LGBTQ community and spreading lies, tropes and misinformation,” Titone said. “Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced and many passed across our country — dozens of which were anti-trans bills. This is why trans and gender non-conforming people have to look over their shoulders. We shouldn’t have to live our lives like this and we need the non-LGBTQ community to understand that life is not getting better for us and that we need help.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod, an LGBTQ woman running for Denver mayor, said people in Club Q went to be with their chosen family in a safe space where they could be themselves.
“Our bars and nightclubs are often the only place where we go to find shelter from the fear and judgment of those who wish us harm,” Herod wrote in a statement. “It is not easy for members of our community to find such comforting spaces. To have it shattered by a rain of gunfire is unbearable.”
Herod linked the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the state to the act of violence.
Ten hate crimes were reported in Colorado Springs this year through September, according to the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University. Three of those hate crimes were anti-gay.
In Denver, 33 of 65 hate crimes in 2022 through September were anti-gay and two were anti-transgender, the center found. In 2021, 26 of 100 Denver hate crimes were anti-gay and 2 were anti-transgender.
“It is not an accident that such an attack took place at the end of a week when we saw members of the LGBTQ+ community targeted for who they are and who they love,” Herod wrote. “From students denied entrance in schools to employees told they could not act on same-sex attraction and must conform to their biological sex, this community — my community, our community — has continued to suffer the ravages of discrimination.”
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