In its most trying hour, as an armed assailant waged war on its customers, Club Q remained what its clientele had long cherished, and what queer bars everywhere had been for generations: a source of kindness and community, where people look out for each other. .
After Ed Sanders was shot in the back and leg, he collapsed on the floor next to the bar, next to a woman he did not know.
Sanders, 63, covered her with his coat in an attempt to protect her from any onslaught that might come next, he said in an interview from his bed at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs.
After other people in the crowd shot the shooter, other patrons rushed to help the injured, he said.
“There were a lot of people helping each other. People who weren’t affected were helping out,” said Sanders, who has been a regular at the club since its opening night two decades ago. “Like a family would.”
Amid stories of heartbreak and devastation from Saturday night’s shooting, which killed five and 18 others injured, there are stories of heroism, selflessness and deep compassion – based in large part on the special kinship shared by queer people and their allies.
Along with the pain came an outpouring of love for Club Q and the people who made it what it was: a “safe space” to let loose and have fun for generations of LGBTQ people around the world. an otherwise conservative city.
It’s a legacy that shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored, regulars said — especially in a time of political attacks on LGBTQ establishments.
Club Q was to host an “all ages” drag brunch on Sunday. Such events have become central to the culture wars of American politics, with right-wing critics suggesting they expose children to sexualized artists, and left-wing advocates dismissing such arguments as baseless and reflecting ill-informed stereotypes. on LGBTQ people.
To understand what has been lost, according to longtime customers, you have to see Club Q not as a threat but as a sanctuary. It’s more than a bar or a nightclub, they say, it’s a community center.
“It was a home for a lot of us,” said Victoria Kosovich, 34, who is transgender, lives in a rural community just outside Colorado Springs and used to perform at Club Q as a drag queen.
“In conservative towns like Springs, many of us were taken away from biological families because we couldn’t keep lying to ourselves and those we love. When that happens, places like Q we provide a place to find a new family that we choose and, in turn, who chooses us.
The day after the shooting, mourners presented themselves outside the room to honor the dead, the injured, and Club Q itself, lest the world misunderstand the extent of their grief.
“We are here not only to pay tribute to people; we pay tribute to the club,” said Shenika Mosley, 34, who was there with his wife, Jennifer Pena-Mosley, 23.
“There was so much laughter here and love here,” said Sophie Aldinger, 23, who is non-binary. “For such an ugly thing to happen here, it’s not right.”
Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, has studied hate crimes, anti-LGBTQ and far-right biases, and the religious ideologies that have helped propel them. In the face of so much recent rhetoric that “the queer community is threatening in some way”, she said, it’s important to point out that bars like Club Q are quite the opposite: “incredibly welcoming places”. that provide security.
“There’s this picture of what this community is that is just the opposite of what’s actually going on,” Bjork-James said. “Gay clubs are not those
hedonistic dens of people who get drunk and dance. They are spaces that create community for people who have been rejected – many of them by their families, many of them by their churches.
For nearly 50 years, members of the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs have raised money for local charities through a club called United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire, which is part of a larger charity which has clubs from Canada to Mexico.
They raise funds with drag shows, bingo nights and other events. They give their all to organizations that provide safe spaces for LGBTQ teens, fight cancer, and support other causes.
Joseph Shelton, 26, chairman of the group’s advisory board, said Club Q is “nine out of 10 times” where the group hosts events.
“That’s where we go for almost everything,” he says. “They remained convinced that every LGBT person, regardless of identity – and allies – has a place to go and have fun, be safe and live their lives authentically.”
Shelton and Sanders, who is a member of the organization, spent part of Saturday at an event hosted by their group’s sister chapter in Denver.
That night, Shelton dropped off his friend at Club Q, briefly walking inside before heading home.
He hadn’t been home for 10 minutes when the group’s “empress”, drag queen Hysteria Brooks, called to say there had been a shooting. Shortly after, Shelton’s cousin called, saying a friend of his had been shot at the bar.
Shelton jumped in his car and drove back to the club. Police cars and ambulances passed; he tried to tell himself that they weren’t all for Club Q.
In the days that followed, Shelton spoke to bar owners and local LGBTQ leaders about what’s next. Should the club reopen or become a memorial? Views vary — except on one topic.
“We are not going to hide in a hole. We’re not going back to the closet,” Shelton said. “We’re going to come out of this bigger, we’re going to come out of this stronger, we’re going to come out of this wiser.”
James Slaugh is another Club Q regular. He and his boyfriend, Jancarlos Dell Valle, both 34, met about eight months ago. They came for karaoke, drag shows or to hang out with other regulars and staff – who were always “super nice”.
“We knew the owners. We knew drag queens. We knew people who called us by name, knew our orders,” Slaugh said. “Club Q was a safe space for me to learn who I was and understand my sexuality.”
On Saturday, the couple decided to cheer up their sister, Charlene Slaugh, 35, who had recently broken up with his girlfriend. The three headed for the club.
After a night of dancing, they were about to leave when the shooter entered.
Charlene received several bullets, notably in the abdomen. His left lung collapsed. She lost half of her body’s blood before reaching the operating table, the family said, and is facing a difficult recovery.
Dell Valle was shot in the leg. Slaugh said he was shot in the arm, breaking a bone.
After filming stopped, he said, things got eerily quiet, but for the techno music that was still playing. It was scary. He didn’t know if the shooter had left or was reloading.
Then he heard someone – maybe Richard Fierro, a US Army veteran who helped shoot the shooter – shouting for people to call the police, and others in the bar, who had been hiding or diving to the ground, “got up and started helping people”, he said.
A stranger approached him, assessed his injury, told him he would be fine, then kissed him on the forehead.
“For me, that made all the difference,” Slaugh said Tuesday from his hospital bed. “Everyone who wasn’t hurt did something. They were going to check on people. …It’s just a testament to the love and connection we all feel.
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