- Many said the attack confirmed their fears that growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in recent months and ongoing threats against LGBTQ Americans could mean they and their community are once again at risk of violence or other dangers.
- “That has an impact that not just for the family and friends of the direct victims, but it affects that entire community,” said the family members of a victim of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
- Chris Hansen, a Pulse shooting survivor, told USA TODAY he hasn’t slept since learning about the Club Q shooting.
When Christine Leinonen woke up Sunday morning to a spray of texts from loved ones who said they were thinking of her, she was initially confused.
But once she turned on her television and saw a press conference detailing a mass shooting Saturday night at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Leinonen put the pieces together quickly. Her son, Drew Leinonen, died from a mass shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Pulse in 2016 in Florida.
“Everything comes flooding back,” Leinonen told USA TODAY over the phone. She recalled driving at a high speed to Orlando, waiting desperately at the hospital for news of her son, hearing the horrible news he was gone.
The terror and the grief after the fatal shooting Saturday that left five dead and two dozen injured has become devastatingly familiar for the LGBTQ community and their loved ones. Many said the attack confirmed their fears that growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in recent months and ongoing threats against LGBTQ Americans could mean they and their community are once again at risk of violence or other dangers.
LGBTQ advocacy group leaders, activists and survivors from the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting spoke to USA TODAY about Club Q and the painful emotions the latest mass shooting brings to an already fearful LGBTQ community, many of whom struggle to feel fully safe even in their own accepting spaces.
“They go through their lives being marginalized anyway, and then to be targeted …” Leinonen said, trailing off. “That has an impact not just for the family and friends of the direct victims, but it affects that entire community.”
Club Q shooting updates:5 dead, 18 injured in shooting at LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs
Pulse nightclub survivor urges Club Q survivors not to ‘stay in the dark’
The Club Q shooting brought back traumatic memories for Leionen and other family members of the victims of the Pulse shooting, as well as survivors. During that attack, a shooter opened fire at the venue, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50 others in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history at the time.
“From Pulse to Colorado Springs to so many other lives stolen from us— this has occurred for far too long,” Human Rights Campaign incoming president Kelley Robinson said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Leinonen said she worries about more grief and painful healing for an already marginalized LGBTQ community.
“Mothers and fathers and siblings and children, I mean, whole communities are affected,” she said. “They’re in for a horrible rest of their lives … we’ve created a hell for a whole other group of Americans.”
Descriptions of the Club Q shooting deeply echo the experiences of those present at Pulse in 2016, Orlando Torres, a Pulse shooting survivor, told USA TODAY.
“What hurts more now this time … is the holidays around the corner,” Torres said. “These people that are losing their lives due to these mass killings, they are family members or friends who won’t be at the Thanksgiving table this year.”
Chris Hansen, also a Pulse shooting survivor, told USA TODAY he hasn’t slept since learning about the Club Q shooting.
In spite of the trauma and grief that comes in the wake of such a tragedy, he said he hoped Club Q survivors and the queer community of Colorado Springs can “stay in the light” and not let their grief overtake their lives.
“Don’t give up and don’t stay in the dark,” Hansen said. “They have to remember that as long as they’re alive, there’s still hope. And as long as you’re still living, there’s still love and love wins and you can’t allow this 22-year-old take away your happiness, your brightness, your love, your community, your strength.”
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‘When will it stop?’ LGBTQ business owners, local groups react
In Colorado Springs, residents say the shooting occurred in one of a few LGBTQ spaces in the area, making the attack more devastating as a result.
“Personally, Club Q has been a huge part of my life and, as one of the very few safe spaces for queer folks in the area, I know it has been so important to many others,” Stoney Bertz, a field organizer with LGBTQ group One Colorado, said in a statement to USA TODAY.
At a makeshift memorial of flowers, candles, pride flags and food outside the nightclub, Colleen Bunkers, whose 23-year-old transgender son has been coming to the club since he was 18 years old, said her son recently moved back to Colorado Springs because he felt it would be safer. He was at home at the time of the shooting.
“This has always been in the back of my mind, that he would be targeted for being trans. I taught him to be confident and love is the answer. We are not going to let this craziness win,” Bunkers said.
The attack comes during an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation. More than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in 2022, according to Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Outside of Colorado, LGBTQ advocates and business owners nationwide shared feelings of anger and grief about the shooting. At the Cinch Saloon, a longtime LGBTQ bar in San Francisco, manager Eric Berchtold called the attack horrendous.
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” said Berchtold. “I’m still trying to process all of this.”
Berchtold said the deadly shooting is another reminder for him and his staff to remain vigilant at the bar, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024, in case of any possible copycats, which he said: “is a very real thing.”
“We’ve come so far and then the rug gets pulled from underneath us,” Berchtold said. “When will it stop?”
Shooting on eve of Trans Day of Remembrance ‘deepens the trauma’
On Saturday night, staff at Club Q was gearing up to host a drag brunch at their LGBTQ space the next morning on Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual recognition of the transgender and gender-nonconforming people lost to fatal violence each year.
Following the brunch, the club planned to showcase “a variety of gender identities and performance styles” at its evening show: both events serving as a welcome celebration of queer joy.
But hours before the brunch was to occur, that same violence recognized by Transgender Day of Remembrance shook the queer Colorado Springs community at one of its safe spaces.
Prior to Saturday night’s shooting, a recent report from the Human Rights Campaign found that at least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed by violence in 2022, a number the report’s authors said is likely an undercount.
While police have not yet determined a motive behind Saturday night’s attack, the shooting was being investigated to see if it should be prosecuted as a hate crime. Nearly 20% of any type of hate crime in the United States is motivated by sexual orientation, according to FBI Hate Crime statistics.
For many, the Club Q shooting was another tragic loss on a day already marked by community grief.
“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,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement Sunday.
Colorado House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, co-founder of the Colorado LGBTQ Legislative Caucus, and Majority Caucus co-chair, Brianna Titone, released a joint statement on the shooting and said the sense of safety in the local LGBTQ community had been “shattered.”
“Club Q is a safe haven for LGBTQ Coloradans, and many of us have gone there over the years seeking solidarity and community,” the statement read. “On Trans Day of Remembrance, we have already been grieving the hate crimes that too often claim the lives of LGBTQ people simply because of who we are.”
Contributing: Tracy Harmon, Pueblo Chieftan