“Are you okay?”
“Checking in to see if everything’s fine as I just saw the news.”
“Let us know if you’re fine.”
It’s only 7 a.m., and I unlock my iPhone screen, squinting. I log onto Twitter and find that there’s been yet another mass shooting, this time in my hometown of Colorado Springs, CO. And it’s not just at a random location — it’s the city’s only LGBTQIA+ club, one that’s only three minutes away from my house. I scroll through my timeline to discover the horror: Five people killed and 18 injured in a midnight shooting.
“All I could think about is everything: my life, friends, family, loved ones.”
I go back to 2016 to Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, where 50+ were murdered in what is now considered one of the biggest mass shootings in American history. As a community, we mourned those who reveled at the club’s Latin night, swaying their hips, sashaying on the floor with their friends, being in community — safe — and then suddenly killed.
This shooting is like déjà vu, and it’s chilling.
Like Pulse, Club Q had patrons hanging by the dance floor, unaware that a domestic terrorist was nearby. One person is Joshua Thurman, 34, who says he was celebrating his birthday on Saturday. It was just past midnight when he heard shots fired.
“I thought it was the music because there were no screams,” he says to KRDO, a Colorado affiliate network. He recalls running to the back door with a fellow customer who followed behind. Together with a drag performer, the three of them locked themselves into a room, turned off the lights, and hoped the shots would stop.
“We heard everything,” he says. “All I could think about is everything: my life, friends, family, loved ones.”
The shots came to an end, with patrons tackling the shooter with the police eventually taking him into custody.
Gun violence isn’t new in Colorado, nor is hate-fueled motivation. This is, after all, where one of the first mass shootings in America occurred: at Columbine High School. In November of 2015, three people were killed, and eight were injured at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs after a terrorist waged war on abortion. And with anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric growing throughout the country, queer people are made clear targets.
“You can draw a straight line from the false and vile rhetoric about LGBTQ people spread by extremists and amplified across social media, to the nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year, to the dozens of attacks on our community like this one,” GLAAD’s president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, said in a statement Saturday. “That this mass shooting took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we honor the memory of the trans people killed the prior year, deepens the trauma and tragedy for all in the LGBTQ community.”
Today, the city of Colorado Springs has a population of half a million with more diverse people moving there from the coasts — a result of the pandemic and need for more affordable space.
Once known as a military town with bases like Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever Air Force Base, and the United States Air Force Academy, it’s an attractive place for young people to start their lives near the mountains. Still, it’s a place that’s extremely conservative, one of the country’s biggest hubs for Christianity, and is represented by a gun reform-opposing congressman, Doug Lamborn. The city is known for Christian leaders openly denouncing homosexuality. So religious, in fact, U.S. news once dubbed the city as the “Vatican of evangelical Christianity,” with infamous churches like New Life Church that was once led by Ted Haggard, the pastor who had relations with a male sex worker.
But inroads have been built in the past few years. While it has its conservative leanings and is mostly white, it still is home to a small but vibrant Korean and LGBTQIA community. In fact, it was during the pandemic that the first gay bar in town, called ICONS, opened up shop. The bar is owned by a married couple from New York City who both worked on Broadway. The locale is usually packed on weekends, and hosts drag nights as well as singalongs on a piano. It’s one of two safe spaces where queer folx and allies alike can sit back, be one with community, and allow themselves to be their authentic selves.
The other, of course, is Club Q. And up until today, it almost felt as if the queer population in the city was thriving. After all, many from the LGBTQIA+ community led the biggest Pride celebration in the city’s history, earlier this year in July.
On the day after the shooting, dozens of queer folx lined Club Q, surrounded by police cars and reporters. Flowers and cards line the sidewalk with one that reads: “God bless and help everyone get through this horror!” It’s haunting to know that just 12 hours ago, an unspeakable tragedy occurred.
Among the crowd was Shenika Mosley and her wife, Gennifer Pena.
“I have friends that were here and friends who were supposed to be here,” Shenika, 34, tells Very Good Light. She and Gennifer were at Club Q at 1 p.m. Sunday to pay their respects. “It was the first time I came here and the first place I brought my wife here. It’s the last time we came together. It was a safe place.”
Gennifer, 23, says she was shaken by the news this morning. The couple says they still have friends missing or unaccounted for. Having both lived in Colorado Springs for over a decade, they are visibly shaken. When I spoke to Gennifer, tears welled up in her eyes. “It makes you feel a type of way and have it in the back of your mind are we getting somewhere? We got 20 steps ahead to then get knocked by 50.”
It’s a sentiment shared by so many queer people today and a reminder that none of us are immune to hate.
“How are we going to feel safe in our city?” Joshua said, tears streaming down his cheeks. “This is the only LGBTQIA space in Colorado Springs, I got my start here. So many of my friends I’ve met here. Now it’s shattered.”
While the LGBTQIA community is mourning across the world, Shenika was defiant as I spoke to her.
“I want to tell everyone that showed us love that we’re here to remember you and pay our respects,” she says. She pauses before looking at the flowers in front of her, laid out on icy grass. “And for everyone to know this: we’re not afraid.”