The massacre late Saturday night at the Colorado Springs, Colorado, queer venue Club Q has taken five lives, injured dozens of others, and shattered the sense of safety felt by members of the queer and transgender community in the city. Promo flyers for the weekend’s events at Club Q give a sense of what that community had built: a punk and alternative drag show followed by a birthday dance party that night, with an all-ages drag musical brunch and drag show welcome to new performers planned the next day to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Joshua Thurman said he had been going to Club Q for more than 10 years, that it was “our only safe space here in the Springs, and so for this to get shot up—what are we going to do now?”
The planned Day of Remembrance events at Club Q would be replaced by a memorial to the shooting’s victims. Among them were several trans people, including Daniel Aston, a 28-year-old bartender and performer at Club Q, whose mother shared his coming out story in the article marking his death, saying, “He’s a trans man and the trans community are really the biggest targets I can think about it right now.”
Club Q is not alone in this moment, not in their grief nor as a target. The attack on this LGBTQ community space did not come without warning. For months, queer and trans activists, anti-fascists, and some extremism researchers have been tracking these attacks—from far-right groups storming Drag Queen Story Hours at public libraries to bomb threats against hospitals where doctors serve trans youth. The plan of attack is often laid out in the open, with popular social media accounts like Libs of TikTok continually pointing out drag and other queer events and organizations, with addresses of venues and names of organizers, with thinly veiled accusations of child exploitation. Colorado Republicans, like their counterparts across the country, have seized on such misinformation campaigns about drag performers “grooming” children to propose bans on drag performance, as Heidi Beedle at the Colorado Times Recorder reported earlier this year, buoyed by groups in the state like the Freedom Fathers who have led protests targeting drag shows. Not even the mass shooting halted this rhetoric and this identification of potential targets. On Sunday morning, Libs of TikTok posted about a drag education group in Colorado, tagging the state representatives who had lent support.
The steadily spreading political violence against queer and trans communities was not coming from the fringes. It was stoked by prominent Republicans pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation, amplified by media outlets including Fox News, and became fodder for campaign ads. Neither was this all coming from the explicitly right, with some Democrats regarding anti-LGBTQ propaganda largely as a Republican-manufactured distraction or divisive talking point undeserving of a response. As the ACLU’s Chase Strangio noted recently, “resistance to anti-trans narratives among progressives and liberals is limited and often altogether absent.” The message sent by this reluctance to engage and defend trans people in particular, as Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote for The Washington Post, has been that trans people should “stand aside,” or else be “blamed for the ascension of conservatism.”
There is a disconcerting continuity here, with trans people and queer people regarded as symbolic tools in political warfare, not as lives on the line. You can see this in some of the reactions to the recent midterm election results, when it seemed that Republicans lost support among the public after they ran on conspiracy theories about queer and trans communities being a danger to children. To some liberal-leaning commentators, after the anticipated “red wave” did not prevail in the midterms, there was proof that most people didn’t support these conspiracy theories. Or at least that not enough of them were swayed by them to vote for Republicans, or perhaps they simply “don’t actually care that much,” as Chris Hayes put it, that “they’re not that hopped up on anger about trans people living their lives.”
Such an optimistic narrative of progress on LGBTQ rights, even with many LGBTQ candidates winning office, sits uncomfortably with the complicated reality of how queer and trans lives are legislated beyond the election cycle. In major state races, Republicans who had led attacks on LGBTQ people—such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott—handily won. Lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere are already preparing new anti-trans laws for next year. And one election should not be mistaken as a referendum on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, or—specifically—on the anti-queer and anti-trans political violence which has escalated this year due to such conspiracy theories circulating, and has now become more lethal.
Earlier on the day of the Club Q shooting, in Denton, Texas, a familiar scene played out, with yet another far-right group trying to intimidate a local bookstore’s storytime event. It had been organized by Amber and Adam Briggle, whose son is trans, and who themselves had been targeted by the state of Texas, when the attorney general and governor instructed child protection agencies to investigate the parents of trans kids. Among those who came to “confront” the storytime participants were members of the Proud Boys and the right-wing group Turning Point USA, with one person from the latter attempting to enter and secretly record the event. Outside, along with other community members who came out to support the event, there was an armed group who later wrote that they were asked to provide defense if necessary. I thought of them when stories came out that the shooter at Club Q had been stopped by someone in the club, who disarmed and then struck the shooter with his own gun, while a still unnamed trans woman stomped on him with her high heels.
* This article has been updated to clarify the identity of the individuals who stopped the gunman.