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Shooting at Colorado Springs nightclub follows a rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric

Leanna Valadez at R Bar in Fort Collins, which she owns, on Tuesday, Nov 22, its first night open since the shooting over the weekend in Colorado Springs.
Lucas Brady Woods
Leanna Valadez at R Bar in Fort Collins, which she owns, on Tuesday, Nov 22, its first night open since the shooting over the weekend in Colorado Springs.

As communities across Colorado are shaken and in mourning following the weekend shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, officials and residents are pointing out the attack followed an election season marked by a rise in anti-LGBTQ messaging.

During this year’s midterm elections, Republican candidates and elected officials across the country, and right here in Colorado, embraced and promoted messaging targeting queer people. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures just this year, and hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people are on the rise. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports one in five hate crimes in the US are now motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias.

In Colorado, Representative Lauren Boebert has been perhaps the most prominent voice in the state spreading misinformation about queer people. Boebert has repeatedly made false claims about the LGBTQ community, including rhetoric that the LGBTQ community is “grooming” children. Boebert won reelection in the Western-slope based Third Congressional District in an unexpectedly tough race.

“To say the things that are just untrue for political purposes, when there's real ramifications and lives that are affected by that, they're just fueling the fire,” says State Representative Brianna Titone, Colorado’s first openly-transgender lawmaker.

Titone says that doesn’t mean all ramifications are as severe as a mass shooting. Sometimes they can lead to bullying, discrimination, or individual acts of violence. Her point is that this messaging is coming from public figures and members of the public are listening. She says it’s important for people to push back on it.

“Speak out against it because that's the only thing that we can do,” says Titone. “That, and educate people on why the things that they're saying are not right and improper and dangerous.”

Titone says there are other factors that could exacerbate the impacts of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, like the proliferation of guns and mental health issues.

“The fact is, we have a lot of guns in our state,” says Titone. “Coupled with a broken mental health system, and on top of that, the right wing rhetoric that comes out, and people right here in Colorado, fueling it. That's a dangerous combination.”

There also aren’t any clear ways to counter those factors in the short term. Titone hopes the state’s newly-created Office of Gun Violence Prevention might be able to find some answers, and she’s not the only one who thinks guns are a problem.

Tara Jae, a psychotherapist from Broomfield specializing in LGBTQ mental health, says anti-LGBTQ messaging goes beyond the recent election season.

“We are being programmed at this point that this is a part of the conversation and has been going on for quite some time,” Jae says. “This past cycle was nothing new and we're becoming desensitized to it. So when those warning signs come up, we miss them.”

Jae is also concerned about the already-high rates of mental health issues in Colorado, especially within the LGBTQ population. Nearly half of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in the past year according to the Trevor Project. On top of that, Colorado has been experiencing a shortage of mental health workers for years. And with one of the few safe spaces in Colorado Springs violently attacked over the weekend, Jae hopes the community there can provide long-term support for those impacted by the shooting.

Fear in LGBTQ safe spaces

On Tuesday night, R Bar, the only queer bar in Fort Collins, was open for the first time after the shooting at Club Q.

“It's a tough day,” says R Bar owner Leanna Valadez. “I'm feeling a lot of emotions about being open today. But I wasn't not going to open.”

Like Club Q in Colorado Springs, R Bar bar is one of the few spaces in the region where LGBTQ people can freely be themselves. Valadez first opened R Bar seven years ago because, as a queer person, there wasn’t a place in Fort Collins where she could feel accepted and safe.

“But the word safe - I'm hung up on it right now,” she says. “Because yeah, I'm providing a safe space. This is my goal. This always was the goal. But how safe is it anymore? How safe is it, really?”

Valadez says some of her patrons are too afraid to come to R Bar now. LGBTQ people already have high rates of depression and suicide, and Valadez is worried about how this is impacting peoples’ mental health. She also says the rise in anti-LGBTQ misinformation is making the situation worse, and she says those in power aren’t doing enough to protect queer people.

“We need to see them stand up to people that spread that hateful rhetoric, because it is killing us,” she says.

Suspected shooter appears in court

The suspect in the shooting over the weekend at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, appeared in court Wednesday for the first time since the attack. The 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich is facing possible charges of first-degree murder and committing a bias-motivated crime, Colorado’s version of a hate crime.

The hearing lasted only a few minutes, and a judge ordered Aldrich be held without bail. The suspect appeared via video feed in a yellow jumpsuit, giving only one-word answers while defense attorneys stood nearby. Authorities Aldrich was stopped by patrons during the attack, and appeared with a bruised face.

The investigation into Aldrich’s motive is ongoing, and prosecutors will officially file charges in the coming days. Aldrich’s next hearing will be on December 6.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.