Like many, I woke up Sunday morning to the horrific, gut-wrenching news of yet another mass shooting -- this time at Club Q in Colorado. A pit hardened in my stomach as I learned of the hate-fueled attack on my own community, in a place I used to go to feel safe as a young,queer college student living in Colorado Springs.
Sadly, the feeling was all too familiar -- it was the same one I felt after the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando: My achy queer heart spilling over in every direction with grief, with rage, with bewilderment, and more than anything, with love for my LGBTQ+ community.
I went to Colorado College in Colorado Springs, a city where, as in many other places, there were forces -- including radical antigay extremism -- that made it challenging to be queer. I spent much of my time feeling desperate for the freedom and safety to be myself, my full self. Club Q and the other gay bars in the area were some of the only places we could go to feel joy, wholeness, and community.
I learned to love myself in these queer spaces across Colorado Springs and Denver. I even wrote my college thesis on the power and absolute necessity of them, specifically bars and nightclubs. We build these spaces with tenderness and purpose -- sanctuaries where we can be together, be whole, be visible, be safe. They give us room to dream, to celebrate, to love and be loved openly. They take us in as we are and give us the space to breathe a little easier.
That's what made this horrific shooting all the more egregious -- it was an assault on one of the most critical and sacred institutions of the LGBTQ+ community.
This violence did not happen in a vacuum. It happened amid hateful antigay, anti-trans rhetoric and political attacks from far-right extremists who have normalized hate speech against my community and demonized the drag queens who spread joy and the trans children who just want to be themselves. It happened at a time when hundreds of bills have been filed to criminalize being ourselves, and it happened in a country where we have allowed extremists to have unfettered access to guns that turn hate deadly.
Colorado has been a leader in the fight to end gun violence, passing smart, lifesaving gun safety laws that could have prevented this tragedy. But this shooting happened in a community where extremist sheriffs and many politicians have openly refused to enforce or implement these lifesaving policies.
Just a year and a half before this tragedy, the accused shooter was arrested for threatening his mother with weapons and a homemade bomb and entering into a standoff with law enforcement -- a clear warning sign that he was at risk for committing future acts of violence. Colorado's red flag law was enacted for situations like this, but no extreme risk petition order was sought and the shooter continued to have access to deadly weapons. Why? It could be because he lived in a county that was openly hostile to common sense gun safety laws. In 2019, El Paso County declared itself a so-called Second Amendment Sanctuary County, voting not to fully enforce Colorado's red flag law -- a law that the sheriff has openly expressed hostility towards.
That is unacceptable. Law enforcement is sworn to protect the public and enforce the law -- those who refuse to comply with lifesaving public safety measures are endangering their communities. The tools to prevent this shooting were available, and yet they went unused. Now five people are dead, many are wounded, and an entire community is forever traumatized -- all because a man targeting an LGBTQ+ club had access to deadly weapons.
They call it a Second Amendment sanctuary -- but a sanctuary for who? Club Q was a sanctuary for the queer community. A sanctuary for people like Daniel Aston, a bartender who lit up every room and helped make Club Q a safe space. A sanctuary for Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Derrick Rump, and Ashley Paugh, who will not spend the holidays with their given or chosen families this year because a man with hate in his heart and a gun in his hand was able to strip them of their lives and their safe haven.
These spaces, created by the bartenders who welcome you, the drag queens who celebrate you, and the friends and family you make there -- are sacred. The shooter, the zealots whose vocal bigotry emboldened him, and the gun extremism that armed him violated that sanctity with the profanity of hate and violence.
We cannot and will not let up from the fight -- the intersection of hate and gun violence is too deadly, too dangerous. While Club Q and its community have a long road of healing ahead, I can say with absolute certainty that violent extremists will never snuff out queer spaces in Colorado Springs or anywhere else. Our communities will continue to find sanctuary in one another, everywhere, always. And we won't stop fighting to disarm hate until every space in every city is a safe place for us all.
Kathleen Hallgren is regional director for state government affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation's largest gun violence prevention organization.
Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.