COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a gunman turned a drag queen’s birthday party into a massacre, said he believes the shooting, which killed five people and injured 17 others, caused the anti – LGBTQ sentiment has evolved from prejudice to hate speech.
Nic Grzecka’s voice was tinged with exhaustion as he spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night’s attack at Club Q, a venue where Grzecka helped build an enclave uniting the LGBTQ community in the conservative embossed Colorado Springs supported .
Authorities have not said why the suspect shot at the club before being forced into submission by guests, but they face hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not filed a plea or spoken about the incident.
Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is related to the art form being reshaped in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children light was brought. Although mainstream acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate.
“It’s different walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and being spat on (as opposed to) a politician,” Grzecka said. “I’d rather be spat on in the street than hate get as bad as it is today.”
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Earlier this year, Florida’s Republican-dominated state legislature passed legislation prohibiting teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” when referring to LGBTQ people increased by 400%, according to a Human Rights Campaign report.
“Lying about our community and making them what they aren’t breeds a different kind of hate,” Grzecka said.
Grzecka, who started mopping floors and bartending at Club Q in 2003, a year after it opened, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger to find out how the support system for the LGBTQ community works could be rebuilt in Colorado Springs that only Club Q had provided.
City and state officials have offered support, and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden reached out to Grzecka and co-owner Matthew Haynes Thursday to offer their condolences and support for the community, as well as their commitment to the fight against hate and guns to affirm violence.
Grzecka said Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs closed at the time. He described this era as a development of gay bars. Decades ago, dingy, out-of-the-way gay hangouts were primarily for finding a hookup or date, Grzecka said. But he said once the internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, bars morphed into well-lit, clean, non-smoking spaces to hang out with friends. Club Q was at the forefront of this transition.
When he became a co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped make Club Q not just a nightlife spot, but a community center – a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, particularly those who are alienated from their family of origin. Drag queen bingo nights, friendsgiving and Christmas dinners, birthday parties became regular fixtures at Club Q, which was open 365 days a year.
After the shooting, after the community center was demolished, Grzecka and other community leaders said they channel grief and anger into restoring the support structure that only Club Q had offered.
“When that system goes away, you realize how much more the bar really is,” said Justin Burn, organizer at Pikes Peak Pride. “Those who may or may not have been part of the Club Q family, where are they going?”
Burn said the shooting drew a curtain on a broader lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burn, Grzecka and others work with national organizations to assess community needs while developing a plan to provide a robust support network.
Grzecka wants to rebuild the “culture of love” and the support needed to “ensure this tragedy becomes the best for the city.”
“Everyone needs community,” he said.
Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for 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 cover undercover topics.