At least five dead. More than two dozen others injured. The LGBTQ community again shattered.
The mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs late Saturday night has echoes of the June 2016 Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 people were murdered. We can only be grateful the damage done by the gunman in this latest incident, Anderson Lee Aldrich, was more limited.
The date of the attack—the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance, honoring the victims of anti-trans violence—seems to have been chosen intentionally.
Reports have it that two people present sprang into action to defend the crowd as bullets tore through the air, disarming the shooter, beating him with his own gun, and restraining him until police arrived.
“It’s an incredible act of heroism,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told the Associated Press. Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said, “We owe them a great debt of gratitude.”
Certainly, their resistance should be applauded, but no one out for a night at the bar with friends should have to be on edge, prepared to fight for their lives at any moment.
Seth Stang, a 34-year-old trans man who counts two friends among the dead, said outside a makeshift memorial at Club Q on Sunday: “It’s like having a bucket of hot water dumped on you…. I’m just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely.”
But that is the reality for queer people in America when a constant bombardment of hatred and scapegoating is rained down on them by the fascist wing of the Republican Party and its Evangelical base.
That point was driven home for this writer just this past summer in small-town Oklahoma, where, for the first time, I saw the host of a drag show wearing a pistol in a holster on his hip. The absurd thing is that such an action didn’t seem unwarranted by anyone present. It was a symbol of the normalization of living in constant fear, like children accustomed to the notion that a school shooting could occur in their classrooms.
Authorities say Aldrich has been tight-lipped since being taken into custody, sharing no hints of his motive. Speculation is of course swirling as to whether family politics might have played a role; his grandfather is California State Assemblyman Randy Voepel, a confirmed MAGA Trumpite.
Voepel cheered on Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, coup attempt, comparing it to the American Revolutionary War. “This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny,” Voepel told the San Diego Union-Tribune at the time. “Tyranny will follow in the aftermath of the Biden swear-in on January 20th.”
Even if Voepel’s politics did influence his grandson’s decision to become a mass murderer, the California lawmaker is just one soldier in the right-wing’s army of hate. All the leaders of this fascist movement have blood on their hands after what happened at Club Q.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents Colorado in the House of Representatives, offered her “prayers” Sunday morning. Typical. She has spent years vilifying LGBTQ people, calling Muslim members of Congress “the jihad squad,” celebrating gun culture, and spreading QAnon conspiracy nonsense. But when the violence finally explodes, she pretends to be the caring Christian.
Boebert was intimately involved in the Jan. 6 effort to destroy U.S. democracy. She led a pre-attack tour for one of the groups that invaded the Capitol, and she voted against certifying the 2020 election results. She barely won re-election in the midterms earlier this month, nearly becoming a casualty when the GOP’s “red wave” failed to materialize.
Anti-gay and anti-trans rhetoric has been a building block of Boebert’s political career. She called the Equality Act—a bill which would make LGBTQ rights permanent—an effort to enforce the “supremacy of gays, lesbians, and transvestites.”
Boebert says LGBTQ people are “perverting” America and that no kid should be allowed to come out until they are 21. When schools offer LGBTQ-inclusive curricula, she calls it a case of “the Left grooming our kids” sexually. “Take your children to CHURCH, not drag bars,” she tweeted.
The rogues’ gallery of Republican hatemongers includes many more besides Boebert, though. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, determined to out-Trump Trump, pushed his “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law just months ago, making it illegal to mention sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom. He’s almost guaranteed to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2024.
The right-wing propaganda machine amplifies and repeats the hatred of these elected officials. Fox News commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham regularly make anti-trans and anti-gay hit jobs a feature of their programs. “Liberals are sexually grooming elementary students,” scream the TV headlines. “Puberty blockers are not healthcare.”
The constant promotion of a political agenda saturated with the demonization of a particular group and then the outbreak of violence against that group cannot be separated. One begets the other—just look at the history of fascism.
There is a direct correlation between the far-right, Evangelical wing of the Republican Party waging a “culture war” against trans kids and drag queens and the shooting that happened in Colorado Springs. The leaders of the GOP helped cause this.
As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday, referring to Boebert and others in the GOP, “You have played a major role in elevating anti-LGBT+ rhetoric and anti-trans lies while spending your time in Congress blocking even the most common-sense gun safety laws. You don’t get to ‘thoughts and prayers’ your way out of this. Look inward and change.”
But we have no reason to expect Boebert and the rest to change their ways. Their entire careers have been built on this kind of hatred and division. As for gun laws, with a Republican majority set to take charge of the House in January, there will be no movement on that issue, either.
But even the gun laws already on the books can only work if local law enforcement and prosecutors enforce them. A year and a half ago, Aldrich, this weekend’s shooter, was arrested for threatening his mother with a bomb. The entire neighborhood had to be evacuated, and police spent hours negotiating with Aldrich to convince him to surrender.
But did prosecutors charge him with kidnapping or menacing? Apparently not. And did authorities trigger Colorado’s “red flag” law, an ordinance allowing them to seize the weapons of persons deemed a danger to themselves or others? No. Aldrich was allowed to keep the guns and ammunition he possessed when he took his mother captive.
No one can say whether triggering the red flag law against Aldrich would have prevented his attack on Club Q with an AR15-style assault rifle, but there’s the possibility five lives might have been saved.
Today, we mourn the lives lost in yet another mass murder. Six years after the Pulse massacre, the amount of work to be done to combat the hatred of the right is even greater.
The Equality Act still hasn’t made it out of Congress, stalled in the Senate since February 2021. Anti-trans and anti-gay bills litter the agendas of state legislatures across the country. Too many transphobic, homophobic, racist, and Islamophobic politicians and preachers still have platforms to spread their hatred.
“I could have lost my life—over what?” asked survivor Joshua Thurman, who hid in a dressing room to escape the gunman Saturday night. “What was the purpose? We were just enjoying ourselves. We weren’t out harming anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home.”
But this is not just a community of victims. Queer people—in all their racial, ethnic, national, sexual, and gender diversity—are also fighters. We have to be in order to survive.
While Republicans like Boebert and DeSantis mimic figures like Hitler and Goebbels, we should look to the queer anti-fascists who fought back against these Republican role models. People like Willem Arondeus, an openly gay member of the anti-Nazi resistance in German-occupied Holland during World War II. Because of his sexuality, for decades his name rarely appeared in the history books.
However, Arondeus was one of the most dedicated and creative organizers of the Dutch Underground. In 1943, he and a group of resistance fighters—including other gay and lesbian comrades—blew up a public records building containing documents that the Gestapo used to track down Dutch Jews and other targeted groups.
Arrested and put on trial, Arondeus remained defiant. His message to the fascists just before they executed him: “Homosexuals are not cowards.”
That is still true today, as the two courageous Club Q patrons who took down Aldrich in the midst of his shooting spree showed. Queer people are not cowards, and we will unite with other oppressed people and allies to take down those who want to commit violence against us. And using our ballots, we will take down those who encourage that violence—in 2024 and every time the polls are open.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.