Owner of gay club: Shooting comes amid a new ‘type of hate’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration 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 with The Associated Press on Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, a venue Grzecka helped build into an enclave who supported the conservative-leaning LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs.

Authorities have not explained why the suspect opened fire on the club before being subdued by patrons, but they face hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, did not plead or speak about the incident.

Grzecka said he believed the targeting of a drag queen event had to do with the art form being presented in a false light. in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. Although general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate.

“It’s different walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spat on (as opposed to) a politician telling a drag queen to a groomer of their kids,” Grzecka said. “I’d rather be spat on in the street than the hate to get as bad as where we are today.”

Earlier this year, Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill banning teachers from discussing gender identity. or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” regarding LGBTQ people have increased by 400%, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign.

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

Grzecka, who started cleaning floors and serving as a bartender at Club Q in 2003, a year after it opened, said he hoped to channel his grief and anger into figuring out how to rebuild the support system for the LGBTQ community. from Colorado Springs that only Club Q had provided.

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 offer their condolences and reiterate their support for the community, as well as their commitment. to combat hatred and gun violence.

Grzecka said Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs closed at the time. He described this era as an evolution of gay bars. Decades ago, seedy, hole-in-the-wall gay venues were primarily for finding a date or date, Grzecka said. But he said once the internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars turned into well-lit, clean, smoke-free spaces to hang out with friends. Club Q was at the forefront of this transition.

After becoming co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped make Club Q not just a nightlife spot, but also a community hub – a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially those who are separated from their biological family. Drag queen bingo nights, dinners with friends, Christmas dinners and birthday parties have become a staple at Club Q, which is open 365 days a year.

In the aftermath of the shooting, with the community center that was Club Q snatched away, Grzecka and other community leaders said they were channeling grief and anger into rebuilding the support structure only that venue had offered.

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

Burn said the shooting drew a curtain on a broader lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burn, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to do a community needs assessment as they develop a plan to provide a strong support network.

Grzecka seeks to rebuild the “culture of love” and the support needed to “make this tragedy the best thing it can be for the city”.

It started on Thursday night, when the 10th anniversary of Club Q took place at the non-denominational Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared Thanksgiving meals given under overhead lights and near rainbow balloon towers.

Hosted by LGBTQ group United Court of Pikes Peak Empire, the dinner’s bright atmosphere was resilient. People were smiling, hugging and telling stories from the podium about those who had lost their lives.

“Everyone needs a community,” Grzecka said.

Earlier that day, at the memorial, a trickle of people walked slowly along the wall of flowers and candles from the vigil that had gone out. Five white crosses were affixed with wooden hearts inscribed with the names of those who had died and notes scribbled by the mourners. “Hope you dance,” someone wrote on victim Ashley Paugh’s wooden heart.

On a concrete barrier, a message was scribbled: “Please hear our calls. Protect us, our home.

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Jesse Bedayn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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