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How the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community is dealing with the Club Q shooting

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

We've now learned the names of the five people killed by a gunman at a queer nightclub over the weekend in Colorado Springs. Daniel Aston was a trans performer and bartender at Club Q. He was 28 years old. Also killed were Ashley Green Paugh, Derrick Rump, Kelly Loving and Raymond Green Vance. And while we're still learning about the suspect's motivations, this attack did not happen in a vacuum.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Over the last year, the U.S. has seen waves of legislation against LGBTQ people. Armed extremists have protested pride events. Politicians have described queer people as groomers and their families as criminals. I talked about it earlier today with Liss Smith, who works with a local organization that's been on the front lines of these fights. Inside Out Youth Services provides resources for queer young people in Colorado Springs. And I started by asking her what the last couple days have been like for her and those who rely on her organization.

LISS SMITH: It has been shocking, sadly not surprising. We understand that the rhetoric against our community has been ramping up in recent years, months, weeks. And though we're reeling that it happened here in our community, I think we've all been so afraid for such a long time, and this is just a confirmation of worst fears, what hate looks like when it's taken to violence and taken into our communities.

SHAPIRO: Tell me more about that shocking but not surprising feeling because many people will say there's a difference between rhetoric and actions. And passing a law is not the same as picking up a gun and firing it. So why were you not surprised by this?

SMITH: Well, in short, because our community faces so much backlash. And we know the direct connection between public attitudes about who we are and violence against us. We've seen hate crimes on the rise. Last year was the deadliest year on record for transgender folks who were taken by violence. And I think all of us as LGBTQ folks living our day-to-day lives are aware of the dangers that come from being our authentic selves. And this is a direct result of the rhetoric that has excused hate.

SHAPIRO: And these are national trends, but Colorado Springs brings a specific context to this. Your group has described Colorado Springs as having a reputation as a city of hate. You grew up there. Tell us where that reputation came from.

SMITH: Yeah. So in 1992 - that was actually two years after Inside Out Youth Services was founded - Colorado passed Amendment 2, which essentially made it illegal to include LGBTQ folks in anti-discrimination protections. The nexus of Amendment 2, where most of the supporters and advocates came from, was Colorado Springs. And we have spent, you know, the last however many years, decades trying to change not only the reputation but also the reality of it. Because the reality is this was not always an accepting and loving community, and you could not always be safely out here.

And our reputation has changed. And the reality of it has changed. And we are so much more open and beautiful and loving than we've ever been in my memory of this city. However, just because we have, like, robust anti-discrimination protections now does not mean that we're protected from discrimination. It just means we have recourse when discrimination happens. And it does still happen. And this is an example of when it happens in the worst possible way.

SHAPIRO: Your organization works specifically with queer youth. And we know that LGBTQ young people experience higher rates of homelessness, of self-harm, of substance abuse. So when you layer this threat of physical violence on top of all of that, what do you expect this is going to mean for the population of young people that your organization serves?

SMITH: Our young people are already traumatized, not only because of the pandemic that's taken three years of their lives, not only because they're growing up, you know, diverse and strange and different and beautiful in a world that doesn't accept them for who they are, but because they don't feel safe anywhere. And our job as an organization that serves them is to create those safe spaces for them and to hold those spaces for them and with them. And to see the fear in the aftermath of this and the realization that even a place that is built for and by people like them, that that isn't safe, that's heartbreaking. Because these young people are so brave and powerful and resilient, and they shouldn't have to be. And now they are terrified. And as the adults who love and care for them, we're terrified, too.

SHAPIRO: So what can you actually say to them when they come to you with these difficult questions, with these fears, with this trauma? And I'm sure you want to give them a sense of security and safety, but the reality is different.

SMITH: It's powerful, I think, for us as adults and for them as youth to understand that we're all grieving and hurting and afraid. But because we're all grieving and hurting and afraid, it means we're together in this, and we're not alone. The solutions to these problems are not within reach. They are not easy. But I think they feel a lot closer when we're together.

SHAPIRO: Can you also tell us about the role that Club Q specifically played within your community?

SMITH: Yeah. Club Q has been around for a long time - I believe 21 years. And it is a staple of the Springs community. Despite our reputation as a city, we actually used to have one of the biggest queer nightclubs in Colorado. That was Hide and Seek. And after Hide amd Seek closed down, Club Q was kind of the last bastion here in the Pikes region. And of course, resources have come and gone, and spaces have come and gone, but Club Q is just kind of always there. And I think you kind of take that for granted when you live in a place long enough that it has been there and always will be.

SHAPIRO: Liss Smith is with Inside Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs. Thank you very much.

SMITH: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gus Contreras
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.