Days after the mass shooting at Club Q, the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is not only grieving the loss of friends’ lives. They are also mourning the violent assault on what many call their home, their safe space.
Club Q was more than a fun night out of music, dancing and drag shows, they said. The unassuming, low-slung building was one of the few spaces in the city where LGBTQ community members could feel safe being themselves.
Until recently, Club Q was the only LGBTQ club in a city with a reputation of being a conservative stronghold and a history of being anti-gay.
“In a world that can be so dark and so angry, it’s that one place that feels like home,” said Jewels Parks, a drag queen and a club regular. “We’re able to unwind, forget about our troubles with work, family, society. Because of Club Q, we’re able to make friends that turn into family and be accepted for our true selves.”
But Saturday night, a gunman entered Club Q and began a deadly shooting before two patrons overwhelmed the shooter.
“The LGBTQIA+ community has undergone so much bigotry and hatred already,” Parks said. “To have our safe place ripped from us and to lose members of our community, is a whole other type of hurt.”
The city has a distinct anti-LGBTQ history. In the 1990s, the conservative Christian group Colorado for Family Values, based in Colorado Springs, pushed for Amendment 2, which prevented state and local governments from preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That earned Colorado the moniker “the hate state” and Colorado Springs “was called the city of hate and bigotry,” according to the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum. The US Supreme Court later struck down the amendment.
Club Q opened up a whole new world for Antonio Taylor when they discovered the place in 2020, taking in their first drag show. Taylor grew up in Colorado Springs, but often feels like an outsider, they said, garnering hateful glares and comments from people as they pass by.
But in Club Q, Taylor felt not only safe, but truly loved. It was that community that helped them come out as bisexual, Taylor said.
“The people there made me feel like I was a part of a family. Seeing so many people out and proud about themselves definitely influenced me to be my true self,” Taylor told CNN.
Lifelong Colorado Springs resident Tiana Nicole Dykes called Club Q “a second home full of chosen family.”
“This space means the world to me. The energy, the people, the message. It’s an amazing place that didn’t deserve this tragedy,” said Dykes, who lost close friends in the shooting and said others are critically wounded.
Taylor and other patrons spoke of the club in the past tense after the shooting, not because it doesn’t exist anymore but because that feeling of safety and joy is gone.
Visiting the club for the first time a year ago, Lily Forsell was overjoyed to find a space that was open to her as a member of the LGBTQ community, even though she wasn’t 21 yet.
“If you were under the age of 21, they would put these X marks on your hand so they would make sure nobody underage would get any alcohol,” she said. “Needless to say, even underage, you were welcome and taken care of. They made sure you had a good time while staying safe.”
Forsell had just left Club Q after celebrating her 18th birthday when the shooting broke out.
As she was leaving, she remembers the scene on the dance floor: dozens of people laughing, singing, and dancing, like they always did after the evening’s drag show.
“I’m going to miss the feeling I had being at those drag shows,” Forsell said. “Full of joy and support for others. It won’t be the same anymore. Still supporting, but in a different way.”
Several people CNN spoke to expressed fear in the wake of the shooting.
Cole Danielson worked as a drag king at Club Q when he first moved to Colorado Springs, and just last month, he and his wife celebrated their wedding there.
“This space is really the only place in Colorado Springs that the LGBTQ+ community can get together and be ourselves,” he said. “Our safety as queer people in Colorado Springs is now questioned. I’m scared to be myself as a trans man in this community.”
Saturday’s attack fell on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance – observed in honor of the lives of trans people lost to anti-trans violence and hatred – and is reminiscent of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, in which a shooter killed 49 people at the gay nightclub six years ago.
Pulse owner Barbara Poma told CNN’s Kate Bolduan that when she heard about the shooting in Colorado Springs, her first thought was “not again.”
In pictures: Mass shooting at LGBTQ club in Colorado
On June 12, 2016, a gunman opened fire in the Florida nightclub, killing 49 people on Latin night at the popular LGBTQ venue in one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
For people in the LGBTQ community, such violence in these spaces is “like a home invasion, and it’s just something that people don’t recover from,” she said.
The suspected shooter at Club Q, 22-year-old Anderson Aldrich, faces hate crime as well as murder charges, court documents show. Colorado just last year enacted its bias-motivated crime legislation.
“I think it’s fair to say – based on the facts – it’s very hard to conceive of a situation where the motive wasn’t generated by hate,” Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told “CNN This Morning.”
“This was a well-known nightclub that individuals – regardless of their sexual orientation, or gender identity – the LGBTQ community knew was a safe place, was a place where people could be their authentic selves. And someone came and essentially took all that away,” Weiser said Monday.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, the nation’s first openly gay governor, ordered flags lowered to half-staff at all public buildings statewide for five days to honor the five victims at Club Q. The Pride flag will also be flown at the state capitol for the same period of time, he told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Sunday.
Alex Gallagher was driving home from Club Q when she got a call from a friend who was just hiding just outside the club during the shooting.
“There was gunshots, people screaming. It was just horrible,” she told CNN. “I was crying, I was angry, I was confused…that this person did this,” she said.
And she’s “fed up” with the violence toward the LGBTQ community, she said.