The shooting comes amid a new ‘kind of hate’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – The co-owner of a gay Colorado Springs nightclub said after a shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration into a massacre that he thinks the shooting that killed five people and injured 17 is a sign of anti-. LGBTQ attitudes have evolved from prejudice to incitement.

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

Authorities have not said why the suspect opened fire in the club before the patrons presented him to the public, but they are facing hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not entered a plea or spoken about the incident.

Grzecka said he believes the focus on the drag queen event has something to do with the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. While general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has increased, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate.

“It’s different walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and teasing him (than) a politician who involves a drag queen with their children’s groomer,” Grzecka said. hate to get as bad as where we are today.”

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

“A different kind of hatred is created when we lie about our community and they do something they’re not,” Grzecka said.

Grzecka, who began bartending 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 rebuild the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community that doesn’t was only provided by Club Q.

City and state officials offered 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 reaffirm their support for the community, as well as their commitment to fight back against hatred and hatred. gun violence.

Grzecka said Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs at the time closed. He described that era as an evolution of gay bars. Twenty years ago, gay venues were mostly dingy, hole-in-the-wall places to hook up or find a date, Grzecka said. But he said once 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.

When he became co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped shape Club Q into not just a nightlife venue but a community center—a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially those separated from their birth family. Drag queen bingo nights, giving friends and Christmas dinners, and birthday celebrations were staples of the Q Club which was open 365 days a year.

In the wake of the shooting, and the destroyed community center at Club Q, Grzecka and other community leaders said they are saddened and angry that the only support structure available at that center has been restored.

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

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

Grzecka wants to rebuild the “loving culture” and the support necessary to “make sure that this tragedy is turned into the best thing for the city”.

That began Thursday night, when the 10th anniversary of Club Q friends was held at the non-denominational Pikes Peak City Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared donated Thanksgiving meals under string lights and next to rainbow balloon towers.

Organized by the LGBTQ group United Court of Pikes Peak Empire, the bright atmosphere of the dinner felt resilient. People smiled, hugged each other, and told stories from the podium about the people who lost their lives.

“Everybody needs a community,” Grzecka said.

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

On a concrete barrier was scrawled a message, “Question with our calls, please. Protect us, our home.”

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Jesse Bedayn is a member of the corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on issues that are not being covered.

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