The co-owner of a Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration into a massacre said he thinks the shooting killed five people and injuring 17 others is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved to incite prejudice.
Nick Grjeka’s voice was thick with exhaustion as he spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night. build in an enclave which sustained the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs.
Authorities have not said why the suspect fired at the club before being presented by patrons, but he is facing hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not entered a plea or spoken about the incident.
Grjeka said she believes the goal of the drag queen event is to engage with the art form. being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain of the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children. Even as general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous environment.
“It’s different from walking down the street holding your boyfriend’s hand and spitting on a drag queen than a leader taking care of your kids,” Grjeka said. “I’d rather spit on the street than hate to be as bad as we are today.”
Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill earlier this year preventing teachers from discussing gender identity Or sexual orientation with young students. One month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” in relation to LGBTQ people increased by 400%, according to a report by the Human Rights Campaign.
“Lying about our community, and making them into something they are not, creates a different kind of hatred,” Grjeka said.
Grjeka, who started cleaning floors and bartending a year after Club Q opened in 2003, said she wanted to channel her grief and anger into figuring out how to rebuild the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community. expect what only Club Q provided.
City and state officials have offered support and President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited Grjeka and co-owner Matthew Haynes on Thursday to offer condolences and to reiterate their support for the community, as well as a campaign against hate and gun violence. Reached out to reiterate his commitment to fight against. ,
Grjeka said that Club Q opened after the closure of the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs at the time. He described that era as the evolution of the gay bar. Decades ago, Grjeka said, dirty, hole-in-the-wall gay places were largely for finding a hookup or date. But he said that once the Internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars transformed into well-lit, clean non-smoking places to hang out with friends. Club Q was at the forefront of that transition.
After becoming co-owner in 2014, Grjeka helped mold Club Q into not only a nightlife venue but also a community center – a platform for LGBTQ people to form “chosen families”, especially those of their birth. For those separated from family. Drag queen bingo nights, Friendsgiving and Christmas dinners became staples of Birthday Celebration Club Q, which was open 365 days a year.
In the aftermath of the shooting, that community center was torn down, with Grjeka and other community leaders saying they were only channeling grief and anger at reorganizing the support structure Club Q offered.
“When that system goes away, you realize how much more the bar was actually providing,” said Justin Byrne, an organizer for Pikes Peak Pride. “Where do people who may or may not be part of the Club Q family go?”
Byrne said the shooting lifted a veil over the widespread lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Byrne is working with Grjeka and other national organizations to assess community need as they develop a blueprint to offer a strong support network.
Grjeka is looking for the support needed to rebuild a “loving culture” and “make sure this tragedy is the best thing that can happen to the city.”
“Everyone needs community,” he said.