COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration into a massacre, said he believes the shooting that killed five people and injured 17 others was a reflection of an anti-LGBTQ sentiment that evolved from prejudice to incitement.
Nic Grzecka’s voice was tinged with exhaustion as he spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, a venue Grzecka helped build into an enclave who supported the conservative-leaning LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. .
Authorities have not explained why the suspect opened fire on the club before being subdued by patrons, but they face hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, did not plead or speak about the incident.
Grzecka said he believed the targeting of a drag queen event had to do with the art form having been misrepresented in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complained about the ” sexualization” or the “grooming” of children. Although general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate.
“It’s different walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spat on (as opposed to) a politician telling a drag queen to a groomer of their kids,” 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 banning teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” regarding LGBTQ people have 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, a year after it opened, said he hoped to channel his grief and anger into figuring out how to rebuild the support system for the LGBTQ community. from Colorado Springs that only Club Q had provided.
City and state officials offered their support and President 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 guns. violence.
Grzecka said Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs closed at the time. He described this era as an evolution of gay bars. Decades ago, seedy, hole-in-the-wall gay venues were primarily for finding a date or date, Grzecka said. But he said once the internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars turned into well-lit, clean, smoke-free spaces to hang out with friends. Club Q was at the forefront of this transition.
After becoming co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped make Club Q not just a nightlife spot, but a community hub – a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially those who are separated from their biological families. Drag queen bingo nights, evenings with friends and Christmas dinners, birthday parties became a must at Club Q which was open 365 days a year.
In the aftermath of the shooting, as that community center was ripped up, Grzecka and other community leaders said they were channeling grief and anger to rebuild the support structure that only Club Q had provided.
“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 adults 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.
Jesse Bedayn is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.