COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Reese Congleton grew up in Colorado Springs feeling like she had to keep her queer identity quiet, and because she hadn’t come out to a lot of people, she was nervous about going to Club Q for the first time.
But on Monday, she recalled how rainbow lights bounced around the room and the bustling crowd shared her excitement. Congleton, 19, said she went from feeling like she was simply tolerated in public to “being celebrated”. … It’s really special not to feel alone.
In the predominantly conservative city of Colorado Springs, Club Q has long been a favorite hangout for members of the LGBTQ community — a safe space where many thought they could let their guard down and just be themselves. It’s a place where LGBTQ teenagers can’t wait to be old enough to enter. It is one of the first places new LGBTQ residents are sent to meet other members of the community and feel a sense of belonging.
But that sense of security was shattered over the weekend when a gunman entered the club as people were drinking and dancing – killing five people and leaving 17 with gunshot wounds. As the community mourned the lives lost, many were also in mourning because it happened in a place considered a sanctuary for many yearning to integrate.
“We weren’t hurting anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, having fun like everyone else,” said Joshua Thurman, who was on the dance floor when filming began. “How can we now do anything in knowing that something like this can happen?”
An 18-and-over gay and lesbian nightclub, Club Q offers dancing, drag shows, karaoke and drag bingo, according to its website. His Facebook page reads “Nobody Parties like Club Q!” and publishes flyers for a Halloween party, a shots party, as well as anecdotes. Some described it as a cozy and welcoming place that attracted those who wanted to sit down for a meal. and relax, as well as those who wanted to dance until dawn.
The club’s doors remained closed after the shooting as many people left flowers at a growing memorial nearby.
Stoney Roberts, the southern Colorado field organizer for One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy group, described it as a sacred space and said the shooting felt like a “desecration”.
Roberts, who identifies as a non-binary trans person, graduated from high school in 2007 and couldn’t wait to be old enough to go to Club Q, which Roberts said was one of the of the only safe spaces in Colorado Springs for LGBTQ people.
“I grew up there,” said Roberts, who starred in Club Q’s drag shows from 2009 to 2011. “If it wasn’t for Club Q, if it wasn’t for not the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be the one person.”
A sense of belonging for members of the LGBTQ community is what Matthew Haynes, one of the club’s co-founders, hoped to create when he started the club two decades ago.
“There have been so many happy Club Q stories,” Haynes told the Colorado Sun. “People meet and relationships are born. So many celebrations there. We are a family of people more than a place to have a drink and dance and go.
Colorado’s laws are now some of the most LGBTQ-friendly in the country, though that hasn’t always been the case, and Colorado Springs was particularly unwelcoming.
The city of 480,000 people located 110 kilometers south of Denver has long held a prominent place for the American evangelical Christian movement. Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian ministry that has lobbied for years against LGBTQ rights, is headquartered there.
After the attack, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly said in a statement that the shooting “exposes the evil and wickedness inside the human heart. We must condemn in the strongest possible terms the killing of innocent people. »
The city’s large military presence also contributes to its conservative leanings. It is home to the United States Air Force Academy, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Peterson Space Force Base, and a major military base, Fort Carson. Many military veterans also live there.
After the shooting, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said in a statement that Club Q is a haven for LGBTQ people and that “every citizen has the right to be safe in our city; walk around our beautiful city without fear of being hurt or abused.”
Congleton and Ashlyn May, 18, said growing up in Colorado Springs, they often felt like they had to keep their true selves hidden. May remembers being looked at in disgust when, in a middle school class, she suggested that Queen’s song “I Want to Break Free” was about exploring becoming gay.
Even now, “it’s scary to hold hands in public,” Congleton said.
But Club Q gave them a place to be themselves. May regularly attends bingo on Wednesday nights, where a drag queen’s compliment about an outfit ripped off their insecurities. “Yes, I’m hot!” said May, who was thrilled to bring their queer younger sister to Club Q for bingo this week to show her “it’s okay to be queer, and it’s okay to love who you love.”
Justin Godwin, 24, and his friend visited Club Q for the first time on Saturday and left in an Uber minutes before the shooting. He said he was thinking of all the people dancing, sitting at the bar and enjoying the night.
“They are all there for different reasons, whether they are regulars, their first time, they are celebrating something. It’s just supposed to be a fun environment where we feel safe, where people don’t judge you or look at you or anything,” Godwin said. “You’re just being yourself, like no matter what you look like, like everyone feels welcome.”
“It’s just crazy to think that someone intended to go in there and hurt anybody,” he said. “It’s just sad for people who find a house somewhere and it’s ruined.”
Korrie Bovee, who identifies as queer, said Club Q is the cornerstone of a community of like-minded people who support each other, in a city where verbal harassment is not uncommon and where freedom to be yourself is not always found in schools. or churches.
“My kids live here,” the 33-year-old said, wiping a tear from her eye. “It’s just hard to know that I’m raising my children in this context.”
Roberts said that as a black queer person, most places in Colorado Springs seem welcoming, but there’s always that “underlying nuance of realizing where you are.”
At Club Q: “You can breathe deeply and you can be yourself. »
Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle in Dallas and David Crary in New York contributed.
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