Shooting comes amid new ‘type of hate’

The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a gunman turned a transvestite’s birthday into a massacre said he thinks the shooting killed five people and injured 17 others is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has moved from prejudice to incitement.

Nick Grzecka his voice was tinged with exhaustion as he spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, a venue Grzecka helped build into an enclave which helped sustain the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs.

Authorities have not said why the suspect opened fire on the club before being subdued by patrons, but they are charged with hate crimes. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich22, did not plead or speak about the incident.

Grzecka said he believes directing a drag queen event is related to the art form appear in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians complaining about the ‘sexualisation’ or ‘grooming’ of children.

While general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my friend’s hand and get spat on (as opposed to) a politician relating a transvestite to a trimmer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I’d rather be spit on in the street than see the hatred get as bad as where we are now.”

Earlier this year, Florida’s Republican-dominated state legislature passed a law prohibiting teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” related to LGBTQ people jumped 400%, according to a Human Rights Campaign report.

“Lying about our community and making it something they are not creates a different kind of hatred,” Grzecka said.

Grzecka, who began mopping floors and bartending at Club Q in 2003, a year after it opened, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger into rebuilding the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community that only Club Q had bid.

City and state officials have offered their support, and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden have reached out to Grzecka and co-owner Matthew Haynes on Thursday to express their condolences and reiterate their support for the community, as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence.

Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs closed at the time, said Grzecka, who described that era as an evolution of gay bars.

Decades ago, dingy, hole-in-the-wall venues were largely for finding a hookup or a date. But as the Internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars turned into well-lit, clean, smoke-free spaces for hanging out with friends, and Club Q was at the forefront of that transition, Grzecka said.

Becoming a co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped transform Club Q into not just a nightlife venue, but a community center – a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially those who are estranged from their biological family. Drag queen bingo nights, “Friendsgiving” and Christmas dinners and birthday celebrations became staples of Club Q, open 365 days a year.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Grzecka and other community leaders hope to fill the gaping hole left by Club Q’s desecration.

“When that system falls away, you realize how much more the bar really offered,” he said Justin Brands, an organizer with Pikes Peak Pride. “Those who may or may not have been part of the Club Q family, where do they go?”

Burns said the shooting opened a curtain on a wider lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burns, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to map community needs as they develop a blueprint to provide a robust support network.

Grzecka is trying to rebuild the “loving culture” and necessary support to “ensure that this tragedy is turned into the best it can be for the city.”

That started on Thursday night, when Club Q’s 10th anniversary Friendsgiving was held at the non-denominational Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared donated meals under string lights near rainbow balloon towers.

Hosted by the LGBTQ group United Court of Pikes Peak Empire, the diner’s bright atmosphere felt bouncy. People smiled, hugged and told stories from the stage about those who lost their lives.

“Everyone needs community,” Grzecka said.

Earlier that day at the memorial, a small trickle of people walked slowly past the wall of flowers and watch candles that had burned out.

“I hope you dance,” someone wrote to the victim Ashley Paug on one of five white crosses with wooden hearts inscribed with the names of those who had passed away and with notes scribbled by mourners.

A message was scrawled on a concrete barrier: “Please listen to our calls. Protect us, our home.”

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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