Club Q celebrated as vital Colorado LGBTQ+ haven by grieving patrons

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For two decades, Club Q was the center of gravity for the region’s LGBTQ+ community and provided a place to organize, share resources and, most of all, take refuge.

“It is the mecca of this area. Everyone felt safe there. Everyone could go there and be themselves and not have something like this happen,” said Jessica Laney, an organizer with Pikes Peak Pride, referring to the 20 November shooting that killed five people and injured dozens more. “Club Q had their finger on the pulse of everything going on in the queer community in Colorado Springs and Denver and beyond.”

Club Q ran the city’s annual Pride event for a number of years, Laney said, and the owners were always willing to support other efforts, such as donating to a nonprofit providing housing to homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

And in the conservative city of Colorado Springs, Club Q’s identity as a safe haven and a shield from the area’s heavy evangelical and military presence cannot be overstated. It was a place where many could drop their guard and gather for holiday meals, bingo nights and family events, birthing a thriving community centered around inclusion.

“It was our safe place. It was our home,” said Greg Resha, a resident DJ at the club for 10 years. “It was a place where you can be yourself, you can hold someone’s hand without being judged or hurt for it – that’s what Club Q means in Colorado Springs. For a lot of people it is the only place they can go for 75 miles. To have our safe place violated like that – it’s just horrible.”

That sense of safety, some say, is gone and has left a wound and fear as the community mourns the victims, and praises those who tackled and stopped Anderson Aldrich before additional people were shot. Online court records show Aldrich, who has identified in legal papers as non-binary, is facing five murder charges and five charges of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, as investigations into the circumstances of the shooting – and what motivated it – continue.

People hug in the parking lot of Club Q on 26 November 2022. Photograph: Isaiah Downing/Reuters

For Tiffany Davis, Club Q was a home, safe and welcoming to all.

“This was my home – my family – even though not by blood,” she said. “If I was going through a bad time, someone there would notice, and talk to me, and make me smile, and I’d end up forgetting the bad day I was having. This sanctuary was a safe place for me to be me.”

An 18-and-up gay and lesbian nightclub, Club Q features dancing, drag shows, karaoke and drag bingo, according to its website. Its Facebook page boasts “Nobody Parties like Club Q!” and posts flyers for Halloween and shots parties, as well as a trivia night. Some described it as a place of acceptance that also welcomed patrons who did not identify as LGBTQ+, and where it wasn’t uncommon to see members of the military.

“Gay or straight it was one of the best clubs in the state,” said Resha, who also worked as a drag performer. “People come not because it is a gay bar – they come because it is an awesome bar.”

Resha described years and years of camaraderie, and a family that had grown to include people who may have just had their first experience with the LGBTQ+ community.

He added that Club Q was a hub for many young members of the LGTBQ+ community who had been rejected by their families, social circles or employers. Resha even used the Club Q building as his wedding venue – shortly after same-sex marriage was recognized in Colorado, in 2014.

“The best day of my life was at Club Q,” he said, describing the Alice in Wonderland-themed celebration.

Resha described Derrick Rump, one of the bartenders who was shot and killed on Saturday, as “just the heart of Club Q, and in a way the heart of the community. It’s terrifying to know he’s disappeared.”

But just as terrible as the past week has been, Resha said, “it has been just as beautiful with the response.”

Day after day people – of every age and gender identity – continue to gather outside the shuttered club to mourn together, pay respect and provide support.

“It’s going to come back,” Laney said. “It’s going to be huge. It’s going to be better than before. The community is going to be better than before.

Looking forward, Resha has started a fundraiser to open a new Pride center in Colorado Springs. The last Pride center in the city closed in 2015.

Resha envisions a bricks-and-mortar space that is a hub for resources, a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, and a place for meetings, events and building community.

The LGBTQ+ community in Colorado Springs is no stranger to adversity and having to fight for its rights, said longtime local activist Carolyn Cathey.

“Change progresses slowly,” she acknowledged.

But many have described the current climate as particularly toxic and fueled by baseless but very dangerous conspiracy theories.

“I am sad and scared about where this nation is going,” said Club Q co-owner Nic Grzecka at a vigil. “What happened to us this weekend as a community is happening around the nation. These politics are tearing our gay communities apart. You see what’s happening in New York with bricks thrown at bars. This is not good. This is not safe. Our politicians are helping drive this narrative and they can also help stop it.”

According to a recent poll from Glaad, the media monitoring and advocacy group, 72% of transgender respondents and 48% of the overall LGBTQ+ community say the current political environment makes them fear for their personal safety.

Colorado’s laws are now among the country’s friendliest to LGBTQ+ people, though it wasn’t always that way.

Colorado elected the nation’s first openly gay governor, Jared Polis, in 2018. Last November, voters elected the state’s first transgender legislator, Brianna Titone, to the general assembly. People can now serve openly in the armed forces, Cathey noted, a particularly significant fact in a county that is home to five military bases.

When Cathey moved to Colorado Springs in 1979, same-sex sexual activity had only been legal for seven years.

Mourners outside of the Colorado Springs city hall on 23 November 2022.
Mourners outside of the Colorado Springs city hall on 23 November 2022. Photograph: Chet Strange/Getty Images

Over the decades, a number of LGBTQ+ bars and restaurants have come and gone, she said, along with advocacy organizations.

Opened in 1969, the Hide n’ Seek club in Colorado Springs was one of the oldest and largest gay bars in the region.

It hosted Donna Summer and the Village People, and after it stopped serving liquor at 2am, the club turned into a dance venue for underage patrons.

After Hide n’ Seek closed in 2005, Resha said some of the club’s sound and lighting equipment was moved to Club Q.

During the Aids epidemic in the 1980s, Hide n’ Seek provided sanctuary “when the rest of the world was afraid to even sit next to a gay person”, Cathey said. “That’s where we cared for our community. We took care of our sick and dying when no one else would even go into the same room. We were a generous community that took care of our own.”

In 1992, Colorado became “ground zero” for LGBTQ+ rights, Cathey said, when the state’s voters passed legislation preventing municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination laws protecting gay, lesbian or bisexual people. The legislation was later declared unconstitutional by the US supreme court.

“We were fighting for the entire nation,” Cathey said. “We just didn’t know it. We didn’t realize how pivotal and important that fight was going to be.”

There’s been an evolution over the decades that was embodied in Club Q, she said, where younger generations were “erasing gender lines and separations”.

But Cathey also knows there is still much to be done in the fight for equal rights.

In the wake of the Club Q shooting, Cathey views the ever-growing memorial outside the building “as the physical sign of us coming together and coming together as a community. And we will rise and have that community again.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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