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Maine Voices: Colorado Springs shooting fueled by harmful rhetoric, politics = Colorado

They say time heals all wounds. But only if they are allowed to. It’s hard to heal when your wounds keep being reopened.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, last Saturday’s shooting at an LGBTQ dance club in Colorado Springs brought back the feelings of sadness, fear and concern I felt when I heard about the 2016 shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Florida.

Filming in Colorado Springs

A makeshift display of bouquets of flowers is displayed on a corner near the scene of a weekend mass shooting at a gay bar Monday, November 21, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

I had just moved to Washington, DC to start an internship. I had spent the previous night celebrating Pride and having drinks with some new friends. We hopped around to the various gay bars. Pride flags, glitter and confetti were everywhere. Gay anthems like Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” or Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” were ringing in my ears as I made it home early in the morning.

As I fell asleep, a horrific mass shooting was underway in Orlando.

Later that morning, stumbling up the stairs from my basement room, I found my roommate with her eyes glued to the television and her hand over her mouth. Whether it was from shock or because my brain hadn’t yet followed me up the stairs from my bed in my basement apartment, my roommate had to repeat that a gunman had gone on a killing spree at a Florida gay nightclub.

I’m a slow processor, so I bowed my head without saying a word. No immediate thoughts or feelings. Speechless. I went back to the basement, sat on the edge of the bed, and scrolled through the headlines and notifications pouring in.

The number of dead and wounded visitors to Pulse Nightclub grew and grew. The lump in my throat and the swelling of sadness and fear in my chest grew with them.

Those feelings returned in full force earlier this week when I got the news from Colorado Springs. The eeriness of the shooting on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance arrived too close to home and evoked feelings too similar to 2016.

As I went about my day chatting with other members of the LGBTQ community, I heard similar stories. People told me the shooting brought them back to the moments of great fear and anxiety they experienced after hearing about a parishioner being attacked or murdered. Familiar names turned up: Matthew Shephard in Wyoming. Harvey Milk in San Francisco. Charlie Howard in Bangor. Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, the black trans women who were killed in a week in 2020 when then-President Trump cut health care protections for transgender people.

In each of these cases, I believe we can state that rhetoric, disinformation and untruths propagated by political, religious and community leaders have helped fuel heinous acts of hatred and violence.

According to an annual report released this month by the Human Rights Campaign, “25 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been passed, including 17 anti-transgender laws, in 13 states. In total, more than 145 anti-transgender laws have been introduced in 34 states.”

The report went on to say the result was “a new record for the introduction and passage of anti-transgender legislation in a single state legislature since the human rights campaign began prosecuting laws.”

Given that, we shouldn’t look at the Colorado Springs shooting as an isolated event. Violence and hatred against members of the LGBTQ community will only increase as politicians, faith and community leaders shirk accountability for what they say. Freedom of expression is not free of consequences. When the pen is mightier than the sword, words can fuel a mass shooter’s motives to rob people of their lives and liberty.

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