In an instant, a place of joy and love, a safe haven, was shattered.
The LGBTQ+ community in Colorado Springs was supposed to be enjoying an All Ages Musical Drag Brunch at Club Q Sunday morning, with singing, food, storytime, and laughter.
Instead, the community was mourning, after a horrific shooting at the nightclub the day before left five dead and more than two dozen injured.
The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, who was stopped by club patrons, is not issuing any manifestos. He faces multiple murder and bias-motivated crime charges.
The tragedy comes at a potent moment, as hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community has ratcheted up nationwide. Right-wing politicians, podcasters, television personalities and advocacy groups have targeted LGBTQ+ individuals and issues in ugly ways, sparking culture wars over everything from children's books to, yes, drag queen brunches.
Colorado residents have heard it all, particularly, and most disturbingly, from Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert. Boebert tweeted prayers for the Club Q victims on Sunday, but her previous words likely have had far more impact. "Take your children to CHURCH, not drag bars," she tweeted in June. Boebert also called out a gay comedian known for musical parodies, saying, "We went from Reading Rainbow to Randy Rainbow in a few decades, but don’t dare say the Left is grooming our kids!"
The term "grooming" fits with a heinous narrative that falsely accuses the LGBTQ+ community of recruiting children. This summer, the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate released a report showing how extremists, like Boebert, were promoting that narrative widely.
HRC Interim President Joni Madison's words then proved prophetic, even without knowing everything about the Colorado assault.
"But the rise of this online vitriol doesn’t just have political implications — there are deadly, real world consequences as violent rhetoric leads to stigma, radicalization, and ultimately violence," Madison said.
This isn't a new phenomenon. What happened in Colorado is sadly not unusual or extraordinary. The LGBTQ+ community has faced discrimination, hate, and violence for generations, from the 1960s Stonewall Inn police raids to the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre, when 49 people were killed and 53 were injured in Orlando. And it doesn't have to involve death to be worrisome. A New York City LGBTQ+ bar called Vers has been vandalized four times since October, including last weekend, when a man tried to throw a brick through its window.
The recent rhetoric has contributed to an alarming environment, one ripe for such troubling incidents. And it's not limited to Boebert, or to Colorado. On Long Island, commentators and protesters have used similar language and have fought similar battles over everything from a Progress Pride flag in a high school classroom to a Pride display in a library's children's section to a middle-school gender-neutral bathroom.
All of those things help to teach our children and teens and provide them with safe spaces to be who they are. Each also represents an opportunity to teach adults, if they're open to understanding LGBTQ+ concerns.
None are dangerous or scary. None will hurt children or kill adults.
Until, that is, hateful talk against such innocent activities leads to hateful action — like the Colorado Springs tragedy.
There's much to learn about the Club Q shooting. But we know it will happen again. And again. As long as powerful voices spread hate against vulnerable communities, horror will follow. And nowhere — not even a club once filled with dancing, music and joy — will be safe.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.