Shooting comes amid a new ‘type of hate’ – The Denver Post



By JESSE BEDAYN (Associated Press/America Report)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a gunman turned a drag queen’s birthday party into a massacre said he thinks the shooting that killed five people and wounded 17 others is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement.

Nic Grzecka’s voice was strained as he spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, a venue that Grzecka helped build into an enclave that supported the LGBTQ community in Conservative-leaning Colorado Springs. .

Authorities have not said why the suspect opened fire in the club before being subdued by patrons, but they are facing hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not pleaded guilty or spoken about the incident.

Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is related to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “patronization” of children.

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

“It’s different walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spat on (compared to) a politician hooking up a drag queen with a babysitter,” Grzecka said. “I’d rather be spat on in the street than hate become as bad as it is today.”

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

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

Grzecka, who began cleaning 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 offered.

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

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

Decades ago, dingy, hole-in-the-wall places were mostly meant to find a hookup or date. But once the Internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars transitioned to well-lit, clean, non-smoking spaces to hang out with friends, and Club Q was at the vanguard of that transition, Grzecka said.

After becoming a co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped shape Club Q into not just a nightlife venue, but a community center — a platform to create a “family of choice” for LGBTQ people, especially those who are removed from their birth family. Drag queen bingo nights, Friendsgiving and Christmas dinners and birthday parties became highlights of Club Q which was open 365 days a year.

After the shooting, Grzecka and other community leaders hope to fill the gaping hole left by the Q Club desecration.

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

Burns said the shooting pulled back a curtain on the broader lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burns, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to conduct a community needs assessment while developing a plan to provide a strong support network.

Grzecka is seeking to rebuild the “culture of love” and support needed to “make sure this tragedy turns into the best thing it can be for the city.”

That began Thursday night, when Club Q’s 10th annual Friendsgiving was held at the non-denominational Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared donated food under strings of lights near rainbow balloon towers.

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

“Everybody needs community,” Grzecka said.

Earlier that day at the memorial, a stream of people walked slowly along the wall of flowers and vigil candles that had burned out.

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

A message was written on a concrete barrier: “Please hear our cries. Protect us, our home.”

___

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

Leave a Comment