COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a gunman turned a transvestite’s birthday party into a massacre said he believes the shooting killed five people and injured 17 others is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has moved from prejudice to incitement.
Nic Grzecka’s 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 on 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 forced into submission by customers, but they are charged with hate crimes. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not entered a plea or spoken about the incident.
Grzecka said he believes targeting a drag queen event is related to the art form being portrayed 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.
“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 legislature passed a law banning 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 report by the Human Rights Campaign.
“Lying about our community and turning them into something they are not creates a different kind of hatred,” Grzecka said.
Grzecka, who started mopping floors and bartending at Club Q in 2003, a year after it opened, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger into figuring out how to improve the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community. , which only Club Q had bid, can rebuild.
City and state officials have offered their support, and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden 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 to fight back against hatred and hatred. gun violence.
Grzecka said Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs closed at the time. He described that era as an evolution of gay bars. Decades ago, dingy hole-in-the-wall gay venues were largely for finding a date or a date, Grzecka said. But he said when the internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, the bars turned into well-lit, clean, smoke-free spaces for hanging out with friends. Club Q was at the forefront of that transition.
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, friends parties and Christmas dinners, and birthday celebrations became staples of Club Q, open 365 days a year.
In the aftermath of the shooting, when the community center that was Club Q was snatched, Grzecka and other community leaders said they can channel grief and anger to restore the support structure that only that location could have provided.
“When that system falls away, you realize how much more the bar really offered,” says Justin Burn, an organizer with Pikes Peak Pride. “Those who may or may not have been part of the Club Q family, where do they go?”
Burn said the shooting opened a curtain on a wider lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burn, 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 friends party was held at the non-denominational Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared donated Thanksgiving meals under strained lights and 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. Five white crosses were attached with wooden hearts with the names of the deceased and notes scribbled by mourners. “I hope you dance,” someone wrote on victim Ashley Paugh’s wooden heart.
A message was scrawled on a concrete barrier: “Please listen to our calls. Protect us, our home.”
Jesse Bedayn serves on the Corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.