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Southwest Colorado’s LGBTQ+ members refuse to give into fear after mass shooting

Some in Durango’s pride community say hateful rhetoric by politicians helps fuel violence
Ryan Garcia, leading the 2019 Durango Pride Parade, said the Club Q shooting won’t stop him and others in the LQBTQ+ community from fighting for freedom of expression. “If you don’t like that I exist, that’s your problem, not mine.” (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

One week before the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Durango resident Brian Joy was at the LGBTQ+-friendly nightclub having a fun evening. While he was there to see a show, he met one of the bartenders, who was as genial as the rest of the staff.

The bartender’s name was Derrick Rump. He was murdered by the 22-year-old gunman who opened fire in the club, killing five people and wounding at least 18 others.

Joy, a leader of the Four Corners Alliance for Diversity, is still thinking about that friendly bartender.

“It was a strange, small world kind of realization,” he said. “I was literally just in that club. I just saw those people. We had just met some of the performers and the bartender that was killed.”

Joy said the Colorado Springs club was a place that welcomed all walks of life.

“There was this diversity,” he said. “It was all ages, all ethnicities. There was the trans community and lesbians and gay. You could tell that this was home to a lot of people. You could tell that this was someplace that people knew each other. I was just very impressed with how warm everybody was and how comfortable they were with each other.”

Though still reeling from what transpired just a week after visiting the nightclub, Joy is not surprised that members of the LGBTQ+ community were targets of a senseless hate crime in a place they believed to be safe.

“This is not the first incident we had,” he said, referring to the 2016 gay nightclub mass shooting in Florida that left 49 dead. “I feel like we are going backward in so many ways right now.”

Planned Parenthood Community Organizer Ryan Garcia, also of Durango, agrees with Joy’s lack of surprise by what happened at Club Q.

“It's tricky,” he said. “My heart goes out to everybody who was impacted by it, but unfortunately, as a queer brown person, I’m kind of just used to people wanting to murder us. It’s the world we live in.”

Garcia said many like him have become numb to violent incidents like the Club Q shooting, as targeted hate crimes against LGBTQ+ members are not uncommon in the United States.

“Unfortunately for a lot of us queer people, that’s kind of the reality,” he said. “Anytime I go into a space, I try to assess the situation and see where the exits are with my back set against the wall, so I can see what’s happening. I shouldn’t have to do this, but that’s the country we live in right now. It seems like there’s a very specific sector of the United States of America that is unstable and causing harm to others. If you’re in a position of power, you need to realize what that power can cause.”

Immediately after Saturday’s shooting, politicians and public figures began to point fingers at one another in accusation, and the ones who received the brunt of the blame were those who had made multiple anti-LGBTQ+ remarks, either in speeches or on social media.

“We have governors out there across the country that are looking at running for president and are introducing a bill to say ‘Don’t say gay,’ and you have to fear what message that sends to children,” Joy said.

He also looks to local representatives, one in particular whom he does not name, but has been vocal against the LGBTQ+ and trans community.

“We have this representative who has been saying so many negative things, so many things against trans individuals and stuff, yet has the gall to be able to post, ‘Thoughts and prayers,’” Joy said. “That’s a little late. It’s time for policy and change. That’s what we should be hearing from you. The thoughts and prayers thing – we’re tired of hearing it. It’s become meaningless.”

Event organizer and drag performer, Aria PettyOne, has no plans to stop organizing or performing in shows after the events of the Club Q shooting. (Courtesy of Aria PettyOne)

Aria PettyOne, a local event organizer and drag performer, shares Joy’s sentiments.

“One thousand percent I blame politicians and celebrities that promote harmful rhetoric that makes these domestic terrorists believe what they’re doing is right and then try to offer ‘thoughts and prayers,’” PettyOne said in an interview conducted on Instagram. “People like Lauren Boebert (and others) gave these monsters the belief that what they’re doing is right. Calling drag performers ‘groomers’ and ‘predators’ has given these domestic terrorists some sort of false sense that they’re some kind of hero. You’re no hero. You’re a monster. The fact that these people have platforms and millions of followers is disgusting to say the least.”

Boebert, Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District representative, has made disparaging comments about LGBTQ+ members on Twitter on several occasions, specifically targeting members of the trans community, though she has adamantly denied that her remarks were, in any way, responsible for what happened at Club Q.

“I understand free speech and I’m fairly certain their intent wasn’t to cause these type of situations, but they need to realize the impact that their words have, because people are continuously being murdered on a regular basis, every single day in the United States,” Garcia said.

Regardless of whether the Club Q massacre changes what certain politicians and public figures say about the gay, lesbian and trans community online or in person, members of the Southwest Colorado LQBTQ+ community have no plans to hide from those who seek to cause them harm.

“I’m not going to let the hate and the fear stop me from trying to work with the community,” Garcia said. “I do feel safe in Durango, personally. I’m just trying to be the change I want to see in the world. If you don’t like that I exist, that’s your problem, not mine.”

PettyOne shares Garcia’s sentiment.

“This isn’t going to stop me from performing and organizing shows,” she said. “This can happen anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a queer safe space. It literally happened today (Wednesday) in Virginia at a Walmart. Will that stop people from shopping at Walmart? No. So, why should it stop us from living our lives truthfully? If I let it stop me from going out and being who I am, those monsters win, and I won’t let fear win.”

molsen@durangoherald.com

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