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Gay club owner: Shooting comes amid new ‘kind of hate’

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — 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 is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment. that has evolved from prejudice to incitement. .

Nic Grzecka’s voice was tinged with exhaustion when he spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night’s attack on Club Q, a venue Grzecka helped build in an enclave that supported the conservative-leaning LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. .

Authorities have not said 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 guilty or speak about the incident.

Grzecka said she believes the goal of a drag queen event is related to the art form that has been cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about “sexualization” or “grooming.” of the kids. Although the general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding hands with my boyfriend and get spit on by a politician who associates a drag queen with one of his children’s hairdressers,” Grzecka said. as bad as where we are today.”

Earlier this year, the Republican-dominated Florida legislature passed a bill barring teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” in relation to LGBTQ people increased 400%, according to a Human Rights Campaign report.

“Lying about our community and making them into something they are not creates a different kind of hate,” Grzecka said.

Grzecka, who began mopping floors and bartending at Club Q in 2003, a year after it opened, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger into figuring out how to rebuild the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community that only Club Q had toasted

City and state officials have offered support, and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden contacted Grzecka and co-owner Matthew Haynes Thursday to offer their condolences and reiterate their support for the community, as well as their commitment to fight hate and guns. violence.

Grzecka said Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs at the time closed. He described that era as an evolution of gay bars. Decades ago, dingy, hole-in-the-wall gay places were primarily meant for finding a hookup or a date, Grzecka said. But he said that once the Internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars became clean, well-lit, non-smoking spaces to hang out with friends. Club Q was at the forefront of that transition.

Once he became a co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped shape Club Q not only as a nightlife venue, but also as a community hub: a platform for creating a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially those separated from their biological family. Drag queen bingo nights, Christmas and friendship dinners, birthday celebrations became staples at Club Q, which was open 365 days a year.

After the shooting, with that community center destroyed, Grzecka and other community leaders said they are channeling their grief and anger into rebuilding the support structure that only Club Q had provided.

“When that system goes away, you realize how much more the bar was really providing,” said Justin Burn, an organizer with Pikes Peak Pride. “Those who may or may not have been part of the Club Q family, where do they go?”

Burn said the shooting raised the curtain on a broader lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burn, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to conduct a community needs assessment while developing a plan to provide a strong support network.

Grzecka seeks to rebuild the “culture of love” and the support needed to “make sure this tragedy becomes the best it can be for the city.”

“Everybody needs community,” he said.

———

Jesse Bedayn is a staff member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on covert issues.

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