When Nicole Garcia, a transgender Latina Lutheran pastor in Colorado, first came out, she spent her evenings in LGBTQ bars exploring her gender identity.

The drag queens at the Denver drag bar she frequented taught her how to style her hair, apply makeup and do her nails. She even performed on stage.

“It really gave me a place to explore … how I want to express myself in the world,” she said. “The bar gave me that place where I could do it, a place where I felt safe, a place where I had friends, a place where I knew people ‘had my back’ so to speak.”

After spending the past few days in Colorado Springs offering spiritual guidance and grief support to the community after this past weekend’s shooting at Club Q, Garcia says she and those she’s consoling share the same concern.

“The fear now is: Where is safe?”

Local LGBTQ community members and allies have described Club Q as one of few spaces in the area where queer residents can find a safe haven for expressing their identity. But its significance is not an outlier: The venue’s role for Colorado Springs is demonstrative of the larger significance of LGBTQ bar and club spaces for the queer community across the country.

Gay, lesbian and LGBTQ bars have long served not just as arenas of expression for gender and sexuality, but as mourning circles, wedding venues, spaces for political organizing and stages to let loose at drag shows. The spaces are also simply places for queer patrons to find what many adults look for in social spaces: the opportunity to drink and socialize with friends or find a love interest on a night out, all with a lessened fear of harassment.

“These aren’t just watering holes or drinking establishments, in some ways these are our community centers, in some ways, these are our temples where we gather to worship, where we gather to commune,” LGBTQ podcast personality Dan Savage told USA TODAY. “It’s not just the people in that space who were harmed, anybody who could have been in that space is threatened and feels less safe after than they did before.”

‘WHEN WILL IT STOP?’:LGBTQ community, Pulse survivors react to Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs

LGBTQ HATE CRIMES:Colorado Springs shooting joins growing list of LGBTQ hate crimes in America

‘You’re with your people’: The history of LGBTQ clubs in the US

It’s important not to romanticize the history of gay and lesbian bars in the U.S., many of which first opened under the operation of organized crime and with unsafe and unsanitary conditions, according to Eric Marcus, founder and host of the Making Gay History podcast.

But despite the risks, those spaces were some of the few where gays and lesbians could congregate and openly be themselves without fear of danger, he said.