Matthew Haynes, founding co-owner of Club Q in Colorado Springs, says he’s witnessed several kinds of anti-LGBTQ+ hate in the wake of the mass shooting there last month that left five people dead.
There’s visceral hate, which he says the club, a longtime queer community space, has received through hundreds of vitriol-filled emails and letters since the shooting took place. Then there’s the “subtle hate” — which he identifies as legislation and leaders not respecting LGBTQ+ people or families, and in Republicans who did not vote for the just-signed Respect for Marriage Act.
On Wednesday, Haynes testified to the House Oversight Committee about that rhetoric, alongside Michael Anderson, a bartender at Club Q who survived the November shooting, and James Slaugh, a club patron who was wounded that night.
Anderson and Slaugh recounted the horror they lived through — and tied what they experienced during the Club Q shooting to growing anti-LGBTQ+ political rhetoric. During expert testimony, leading LGBTQ+ researchers and activists beseeched lawmakers to recognize the harm that such rhetoric and legislation fueled by it has caused. That, they say, includes the loss of life seen in Club Q.
“To the politicians and activists who accused LGBTQ people of grooming children and being abusers, shame on you,” Anderson said. “Hate speech turns into hate action, and actions based on hate almost took my life from me at 25 years old.”
Haynes read samples of hateful comments that he said the club has received since the shooting, including one message that read, “All gays should die.”
The committee, representing the House’s investigative authority, is returning to Republican leadership next year. Wednesday’s hearing is the final full committee hearing on the agenda before Democrats cede their leadership.
In her opening statement, presiding over her last hearing as the Democratic chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney said that rising attacks against LGBTQ+ people are a culmination of anti-LGBTQ+ efforts “that began in statehouses across the country.”
Maloney denounced Republicans for pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and accused the party of having “fanned the flames of bigotry” through voting against pro-LGBTQ+ legislation like the Equality Act and an LGBTQ+ data collection bill introduced in the House this summer.
Republican Rep. James Comer, the ranking member on the committee who will serve as its next chairman, denounced Wednesday’s proceedings as not an oversight hearing, but as an exercise to blame Republicans for violence.
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When asked what message he wants to send to Republicans as they retake the House, Haynes said that LGBTQ+ rights should not be a political issue. He wants both Democrats and Republicans to discuss how to protect LGBTQ+ spaces.
“Let’s get politics out of basic human rights,” Haynes told The 19th on the White House South Lawn on Tuesday, after President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law. “Let’s just start respecting basic human rights and respecting everybody’s love.”
Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida and a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, testified Wednesday that advocates have increasingly warned that rising anti-LGBTQ+ legislation brought in states “would come with a human cost” — and that those consequences are increasingly deadly.
Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, said that anti-LGBTQ+ bills and the rhetoric surrounding them are creating an environment where violence, like that seen at Club Q, is seen as acceptable.
Slaugh watched his sister, Charlene, bleed after she was shot over five times at Club Q. He was shot in his right arm, and his partner, Jancarlos Dell Valle, who was also with him that night, was shot in the leg.
“The fear-based and hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, especially around trans individuals and drag performers, leads to violence,” he testified. “It incites violence.”
Such rhetoric, including from politicians, is at the root of the attacks like what he experienced at Club Q — and it needs to stop, Slaugh said. It makes people feel “less than” for being different, he said.
Jessie Pocock, executive director of Inside Out Youth Services, which supports LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado Springs, testified that since the shooting, youth in the community are more afraid to be known as queer.
“Youth are asking us to be more incognito, less obviously LGBTQ. They’re scared they’ll be the next target,” she said. Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric has put the people that she works with in danger, she said.
In Colorado Springs, the community is still grieving the loss of life — as well as the loss of somewhere to physically be with each other to process that grief together, Haynes told The 19th on Tuesday.
“When they’re sad and when something bad happens, Club Q is where they would go. And it’s where they’d go to celebrate. There were a lot of people there celebrating birthdays that particular night. That’s every night. They celebrate birthdays, they celebrate other life events. And that’s all missing right now,” Haynes said.
The current plan is for Club Q to reopen at the same venue, he said — with a remodeling that includes more security features.