The co-owner of Colorado The Springs gay nightclub, which was the scene of a mass shooting, believes the attack reflects anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment that has turned from prejudice to incitement.
Authorities have not explained why the suspect allegedly opened fire on the club on Saturday, killing five people and injuring 17 others. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, has not pleaded or spoken about the incident, but faces possible hate crime charges.
Club Q co-owner Nic Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag event was linked to the art form having been misrepresented in recent months by activists and politicians right-wingers who complained about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.
“It’s different walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spat on, [as opposed to] a politician linking a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” 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 ban teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” against LGBTQ+ people 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, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger into figuring out how to rebuild the unique support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ+ community that the club, the only gay bar in the conservative city, provided.
City and state officials have offered their support, and 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 fight against hate and gun violence.
After becoming co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped transform Club Q into a community center – a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ+ people, especially those estranged from their birth families.
“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+ people in Colorado Springs. Burn, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to assess community needs 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”.
“Everyone needs a community,” he said.