Colorado Springs deals with past after shooting gay club

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — When officials unfurled a 25-foot rainbow flag in front of Colorado Springs City Hall this week, people gathered to mourn the victims of a mass shooting at a popular gay club. how such a show of support would have been unthinkable just days earlier.

With a growing and diversifying population, the city at the foot of the Rockies is a patchwork of disparate social and cultural fabrics. It’s a place full of art shops and breweries; megachurches and military bases; a liberal arts college and the Air Force Academy. For years it has marketed itself as an outdoor boomtown with a population that will exceed Denver’s by 2050.

But last weekend’s shooting has raised uncomfortable questions about the lasting legacy of cultural conflicts that burned decades ago and gave Colorado Springs a reputation as a cauldron of religious conservatism, where LGBTQ people didn’t fit in with the most vociferous community leaders. idea of ​​family values.

For some, just seeing the police this week be careful about using the correct pronouns to the victims meant a seismic change. For others, the shocking act of violence in a space deemed an LGBTQ haven shattered a sense of optimism that permeated everything from the city’s revitalized downtown to the sprawling subdivisions on the outskirts.

“It feels like the city is at this tipping point,” said Candace Woods, a queer pastor and chaplain who has lived in Colorado Springs for 18 years. “It feels interesting and strange, like there’s a tension: How are we going to decide how we want to move forward as a community?”

In recent decades, the population has almost doubled to 480,000 people. More than a third of the inhabitants are non-white – twice as many as in 1980. The average age is 35 years. Politics here is more conservative than in similarly sized cities. City council debates revolve around topics that are common knowledge throughout Mountain West, such as water, housing, and the threat of wildfires.

Residents take pride in describing Colorado Springs as a place defined by reinvention. In the early 1900s, newcomers attempted to establish a resort town in the shadow of Pikes Peak. Military bases were built in the 1940s. In the 1990s, it became known as a home for evangelical nonprofits and Christian ministries, including the Focus on the Family broadcast ministry and the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys.

“I’ve thought for years, we’re in the middle of a transition about what Colorado Springs is, who we are and what we’ve become,” said Matt Mayberry, a historian who directs the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

The idea of ​​holding on to a city with a bright future is part of what drove Michael Anderson, a bartender at Club Q who survived last weekend’s shooting, to move here.

Two friends, Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston, helped him land the job at Club Q and find his queer family in his new hometown. It was more welcoming than the rural part of Florida where he grew up.

Still, he noted signs that the city was more culturally conservative than others of similar size and much of Colorado: “Colorado Springs is kind of an outlier,” he said.

Now he mourns the loss of Rump and Aston, who were both killed in the club shooting.

Leslie Herod followed an opposite trajectory. After growing up in Colorado Springs in a military family, like many others in the city, she left to attend the University of Colorado in the liberal city of Boulder. In 2016, she became the first openly LGBTQ and black person elected to the Colorado General Assembly, representing a portion of Denver. She is now running to become the mayor of Denver.

“Colorado Springs is a community full of love. But I will also acknowledge that I chose to leave the Springs because I felt that when it came to… the elected leadership, the vocal leadership in this community, it didn’t support all the people, it didn’t support the black people, was “I don’t support immigrants, I don’t support LGBTQ people,” Herod said at a memorial gathering at the center.

She said she found community at Club Q when she returned from college, but that sense of belonging didn’t allow her to forget that people and groups with a history of anti-LGBTQ stances and rhetoric maintained their influence in city politics.

“This community, like any other community in the country, is complex,” she said.

Herod and others long enough remember this week how in the 1990s, at the height of religious right-wing influence, the Colorado Springs-based group Colorado for Family Values ​​spearheaded a nationwide campaign to get Amendment 2 and make it illegal for communities to enact ordinances that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Colorado Springs voted 3 to 1 for Amendment 2, enabling the narrow statewide victory. Although it was later declared unconstitutional, the campaign boosted the city’s reputation, attracted more like-minded groups and stimulated progressive activists in response.

The influx of evangelical groups decades ago was spurred at least in part by efforts by the city’s economic development department to provide financial incentives to lure nonprofits. Newcomers began lobbying for policies such as abolishing school Halloween celebrations over suspicions about the holiday’s pagan origins.

Yemi Mobolade, an entrepreneur who is running for mayor as an independent, didn’t understand the strength of Colorado Springs’ stigma as a “hate city” until he moved here 12 years ago. But since being here, he said, it has emerged from the recession-era struggles and become culturally and economically vibrant for all kinds of people.

There has been a concerted effort to shake off the city’s reputation as “Jesus Springs” and remake it, highlighting the elite Olympic Training Center and branding itself as Olympic City USA.

As in the 1990s, Focus on the Family and New Life Church remain prominent in the city. After the shooting, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly said he, like the rest of the community, was mourning the tragedy. With the city in the national spotlight, he said the organization wanted to make it clear that it opposes hate.

Daly noticed a generational shift among Christian leaders away from the rhetorical style of his predecessor, Dr. James Dobson. While Focus on the Family published literature in recent decades attacking the “homosexual agenda,” its message now emphasizes tolerance, giving those who believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman the right to behave accordingly. to act.

“I think in a pluralistic culture now the idea is, how can we all live without stepping on each other?” said Daly.

The memorials attracted a wave of visitors this week: crowds of mourners holding flowers, crowds of television crews, and also a church group whose volunteers set up a tent and handed out cookies, coffee and water. For some in the LGBTQ community, the scene was less about solidarity and more about consternation.

Colorado Springs native Ashlyn May, who grew up in a Christian church but left when it refused to accept her strange identity, said a woman from the group in the tent asked if she could pray for her and a friend who accompanied her to the memorial service . .

She said yes. It reminded May of her beloved great-grandparents, who were religious. But as the prayers continued and the woman urged May and her friend to turn to God, she felt as if praying had turned to hunting. It brought back memories of hearing things about LGBTQ people that she considered hateful and inflammatory.

“It felt very contradictory,” May said.


Metz reported from Salt Lake City. AP writers Brittany Peterson and Jesse Bedayn in Colorado Springs contributed.

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