SAY WHAT?- The 22-year-old gunman who murdered five and injured 25 in a gay nightclub in Colorado before being taken down by "heroic" patrons - because the way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a gay guy without a gun - was the grisly, deadly, inevitable outcome of hateful rhetoric targeting a marginalized group slamming into a country ominously packed with, sick with, guns. "What happens when an entire political party starts demonizing drag shows?" asked one furious patriot. "People get massacred at drag shows. This isn't rocket science." America's 6th mass shooting this month and 34th this year unfolded at Colorado Springs' Club Q, long the city's only LGBTQ club, which features birthday dance parties and a popular drag show on Saturdays; the night of the shooting, they'd posted about an "ALL AGES DRAG BRUNCH" the next day: "Let's prep for a fantastic Sunday Funday!" For queer residents of a deep red city that hosts several military bases and the fundamentalist Focus on the Family, which preaches that same-sex anything is "a particularly evil lie of Satan" and has spent over $515 million in anti-LGBTQ advocacy to prove it, Club Q was not just a nightclub but "our safe space," ”a second home full of chosen family," "one of the few places where I didn't have to worry (about) people hating me for who I am." "It was the only space in the entire city (where) LGBTQ people felt safe," said one. "And now that's shattered."
At a Monday press conference the victims were identified: Kelly Loving, who just turned 40 and was "like a trans mom" to friends; Ashley Paugh, a straight 35-year-old mother who worked to find homes for foster children; Raymond Green Vance, 22, who was at the club for the first time to celebrate a birthday with his girlfriend and her family; Derrick Rump, 38, a "lively, loving" bartender and performer at the club who "made it what it was"; and Daniel Davis Aston, 28, a trans bartender and performer who'd just completed his medical transition and was, said his mother Sabrina, "the happiest he had ever been." Growing up, she recalled, Daniel told her at age four he was a boy and wouldn't wear girls' clothes: "Those are our children - we don't care how they dress or what they identify as. It doesn't harm anybody." After he began living as a trans man in such hateful political times, she "always worried" about him. "It's just unbelievable. He had so much more life to give," she said. "I didn't want to be part of this, the losing a child club." In a dark twist, he and the others were murdered minutes before Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memory of trans people killed in anti-transgender violence." Club Q had planned to mark it; instead, people gathered at inter-faith events to denounce "theologies of hate" and ensure "our arms could be as wide as possible to embrace a community that's hurting."
Eerily echoing other massacres, from Columbine to Pulse to Uvalde, a makeshift memorial went up Sunday outside Club Q - flowers, candles, a plaintive sign for "Love Over Hate." (Maybe.) Police who'd arrived the night before praised the "incredible act of heroism" that ended a shooting that could have been even worse. For that, they can thank Richard Fierro, a 45-year-old brewery owner and veteran of four Army deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan who was there celebrating a birthday with his wife and daughter; when he saw the flash of gunfire, he instinctively "went into combat mode." Charging through the panicked crowd, he tackled the gunman, who he said weighed over 300 pounds, yanked a handgun away from him, and started beating him with his own gun while yelling for other patrons to help. Another man shoved away the shooter's (yes another) AR-15, a drag performer stomped on the gunman with her high heels, and Fierro kept pummeling as he and the gunman screamed curses at each other; he was so bloody police at first arrested him. Fierro was a major with two Bronze Stars when he left the Army in 2013: "I was done with war." He "never thought I'd have to deal with that kind of violence at home, (but) everybody in that building experienced combat that night...they were forced to." His wife's two best friends were shot; his daughter, who broke her knee running for cover, lost her longtime boyfriend, Raymond Green Vance.
The gunman, identified as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, remains hospitalized; he has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of a bias-motivated crime. He is the grandson of former mayor, devout MAGA-ite and outgoingCalifornia GOP state assembly Randy Voepel, who was almost expelled by colleagues after he praised the Jan. 6 attack with, "This is Lexington and Concord. First shots fired against tyranny." Aldrich's mother Laura Voepel praised her father online: "You work hard to improve our lives." In 2021, she also called police to report her son was threatening her with a homemade bomb and multiple weapons; after he refused to surrender, a tactical support unit evacuated nearby homes, a crisis negotiator was called in, and a standoff ensued. Aldrich was eventually arrested and charged with five felonies, including felony menacing and kidnapping, but charges were inexplicably never filed, thus allowing him to evade Colorado's Red Flag law and buy a shiny new AR-15, because America. Aldrich was living with his grandparents at the time, said a former landlady who recalled his "aggressive side," but he'd visit his mother to watch movies with her when not threatening to bomb her. She in turn often went online asking church members for help for her son: Does anyone have a fan to donate to him? Can anyone recommend a trauma/PTSD therapist? And in May, saying "he's made huge life changes," did anyone know a private boxing coach? "He's 6'6" tall," she wrote, "and hits like a freight train."
Nervously careful law enforcement officials have said the mass shooting at a gay nighclub is being investigated "through the lens of a hate crime." Ya think? You mean it might be connected to a right wing that deems every queer person and half the country's Democrats "groomers," or to a rise in rabid anti-gay, trans and drag show rhetoric, or to hundreds of state bills curbing the rights of "others," or to emboldened fascists proclaiming who should or should not exist? Or to bellicose Proud Boys disrupting peaceful Drag Story Hours in t-shirts that say, "Kill Your Local Pedophile"? Or to a Florida GOPer proposing to charge with a felony and terminate the parental rights of any adult who "brings a child to these perverted sex shows"? Or to the hate-mongering and bomb threats against hospitals offering health care - aka "castration" - to trans kids? Or to Herschel Walker, a day or so after the shooting, still running a trans-phobic ad with a young Aryan college swimmer whining "a man won a title that belonged to a woman, and Sen. Warnock voted to let it happen." Or to, let's not forget, Tucker Carlson, who accuses trans-supportive schools of "sex crimes," declares "no parent should put up with this for one second," and tells viewers it's their "moral duty" to dole out "instant justice...no matter what the law says. "This is an attack on your children," he intones, "and you should fight back." On Twitter: "This language will get people killed." And so it has.
Finally, there's Colorado's gun-toting, queer-bashing, deeply hateful Lauren Boebert, who critics noted had "the fucking audacity" to fake-grieve the "absolutely awful" shooting and declare, "The victims & their families are in my prayers." Wait. Is this the same Boebert who's ceaselessly trafficked in anti-LGBTQ hysteria? Who's attacked the left as pedophiles and "sick, demented groomers," warned drag queens to "stay away from our children," equated LGBTQ-inclusive flash cards with "indoctrination," charged a kid-friendly drag show was guarded by masked Antifa guards with AR-15s - "Remember, they only want YOUR guns. They want to use theirs to protect their depravity" - and urged, "Take your children to CHURCH not drag bars," though God knows how many children have been molested in church; in drag bars, evidently zero. The furious response:"This is on you...You are to blame...LGBTQ people like me are less safe in this country because (of) people like you...Conservative identity politics puts homicidal jerkoffs into motion...You are the hate that leads to violence." And from one woman, when Boebert tried to make it about generic crime - "This lawless violence needs to end" - "Good gosh she's an awful thing." Ditto, said AOC, who called out the hypocrisy: "You don’t get to 'thoughts and prayers' your way out of this. Look inward and change." Also: Change your grotesque Christmas cards - same to the other MAGA freaks -with your four twisted spawn clutching fucking AR-15s. Fred Guttenberg: "This is what grooming looks like."
The Club Q shooting is likewise what "one big reactionary political project" - the weaponizing of fear and unease over social changes in our country - looks like, ugly and unsurprising. "You tolerate hateful language, and it leads to hateful legislation, and it leads to hateful violence," said the head of LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal. "This is not an accident." For many, the senselessness of the carnage - "I could have lost my life - over what? What was the purpose?" asked one tearful survivor - melds with the awful familiarity - "To all the victims, I am sorry our country refuses to do better, and last night you had to join a growing list" - and, in turn, a deep weariness. A 34-year-old transgender man: "I'm just tired of running out of places where we can exist safely." The sorrowful, brutal truth, writes activist Dan Savage, is that "behind closed doors was never enough." "They used to say there was something wrong with us because we only gathered in seedy bars, but that was where they herded us," he says of the time before Stonewall sparked the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement, with its chant of, "Out of the bars and into the streets!" "People who hate queer people want us to keep it private. Behind closed doors. Someplace they don't have to see it," he asserts. "An attack like this says 'not even here.'" What it also says to those still standing: "If we're not safe in there, we have no choice but to fight to make it safe everywere."
Update: Whew. An interview with the shooter's father Aaron Brink, a porn actor and meth head who's relieved his son is (apparently) not gay: "I'm a Mormon. I'm a conservative Republican. We don't do gay."
(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: [email protected])