LGBTQ+ advocates and lawmakers in Colorado feel numbness, anger, and sorrow in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs shooting on Saturday that killed five people and injured at least 18 others at Club Q — an LGBTQ+ bar that has stood as a community space for two decades. The timing of the killings just before the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) brought an even greater sense of devastation and urgency to LGBTQ+ people in the community and national advocates.
Stoney Roberts, a Colorado Springs resident, said that in a lot of ways they grew up at Club Q. He met one of his best friends 13 years ago while performing drag there. The club was one of the few safe places Roberts could go as an out queer young adult in Colorado Springs to have fun and to be with others like him.
For Roberts, a field organizer at state LGBTQ+ rights group One Colorado, one thought has surfaced as they have been processing the tragedy: It could have been him, or any other queer person in Colorado Springs, who was killed on Saturday night.
“It just exposes that we’re all vulnerable if something doesn’t change,” Roberts said. “I think that’s what comes up the most for me.”
That the shooting took place on the evening before TDOR, a day honoring trans homicide victims, makes the tragedy even more painful, multiple advocacy groups said. They said the shooting is part of a bigger landscape of growing political attacks and harmful rhetoric aimed at trans people.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, denounced the shooting as an attack on the LGBTQ+ community and drew a direct line from the violence to rising anti-trans rhetoric on a call hosted by the Human Rights Campaign on Monday.
“This shooting and others of its kind in recent history is the direct result of waves of unchecked anti-trans campaigns of fear mongering and misinformation,” he said.
Mardi Moore, executive director of Out Boulder County, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization that leads corporate trainings, support groups, research and other services in Colorado, is worried the emotional toll of the shooting will make queer and trans people in her state feel unsafe and harm mental health within the community. That could increase chances of suicide, she said — a breaking point often reached after long-term exposure to the patterns of discrimination that so many LGBTQ+ people live through.
As a queer person, there are only a few windows in life where you can feel good — like on a Saturday night out — and to have that shattered can be too much to bear, Moore said. “The ripples of all this are just too much,” she said.
Right now, LGBTQ+ people in Colorado — and particularly Colorado Springs — don’t have enough access to culturally competent therapists and mental health services, especially to get support in the wake of such a tragedy, Moore told The 19th. Liss Smith, communications manager at Inside Out Youth Services, which supports LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado Springs, said that while the state’s behavioral health administration has offered some support, more help is still needed.
“Especially in Colorado Springs, we have a desert of folks who are queer-affirming and competent, who are competent in mental health care,” Smith said. They also noted that a fund for victims, survivors and their families organized by the Colorado Healing Fund, and promoted by national and state LGBTQ+ organizations, is a direct way to help the community.
Roberts said they felt the timing of the attack keenly. The night before, Roberts had joined a TDOR vigil in Denver, hosted by the Transgender Center of the Rockies. Attending that event was part of a grieving process — to mourn transgender people killed or otherwise lost to violence this year, which the Human Rights Campaign tallies at 32 and the National Center for Transgender Equality, using a broader analysis, tallies at 47.
“I came home thinking we’re combatting these horrible incidents with queer joy,” said Roberts, who is trans. “To wake up to the news was really, really hard. The list got longer overnight.” Queer Coloradans were living joyfully at Club Q — and that joy was violated, Roberts said.
The suspect in the shooting faces preliminary charges of “five counts of murder and five counts of bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury,” and is being held on hate crime charges as well as those murder charges, The New York Times reports, citing Colorado court records.
In Colorado Springs, hundreds gathered on Sunday afternoon at All Souls Unitarian Church to hold a vigil for the victims, according to the Colorado Sun. Dozens reportedly filled the sidewalk outside after the church filled to capacity.
Out Boulder County gathered 150 people at the group’s TDOR event on Sunday night after receiving only 50 RSVP’s prior to the shooting, Moore said.
Brianna Titone, who represents Colorado House District 27 and is the first transgender person to serve in the Colorado legislature, attended Out Boulder’s TDOR event on Sunday night. She woke up on Sunday to one text message and notification after another — a nonstop churn of news that left her sad, angry and frustrated.
She hopes that more people will understand the importance of fighting for trans people in the wake of the shooting, due to its proximity to TDOR. That the shooting took place so close to a day of mourning for transgender people lost to violence makes it part of a bigger picture of trans people being the focus of violence and attacks lately, she said.
“He came in to hurt everyone. But an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and this is an opportunity for the trans community to say, ‘Hey, we’ve been being murdered all this time. Let’s fight this hatred for all of us together,’” Titone said.
A youth LGBTQ+ group organized by Out Boulder County is gathering Monday night in Longmont — just outside of Boulder — to write cards to families of the victims as well as to LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado Springs, Moore said. Mental health professionals will also join to hopefully help the youth process the event.
Roberts has had some time sporadically to process the tragedy — which has included being in community, where it feels like others are still processing what happened, too.
“There’s still so much support that needs to happen between all of us,” he said. “I think at least everyone that I’ve spoken to is at least trying to take the steps to get there. I just don’t think we really know what that looks like.”