Minutes later he was lying on the ground with a bullet in his back. Next to him was the woman he recognized as Kelly Loving. They had never spoken to each other, but she was a familiar face – and he was trying to get active. “She was shot pretty badly,” he recalled from his hospital bed, “and her eyes were glassy. She could hear, but she couldn’t breathe.”
Sanders had partially fallen on top of her but managed to wrap Loving in his red velvet jacket. It was a special outfit he wore to the ball in Denver, where he represented the United Court of Pikes Peak Empire – a longtime local LGBTQ group – as its royal prince. “I knew you should help if you were able,” he said, “and I did what I could.”
The wounds in his back prevented him from getting up, Sanders says, but a nearby drag performer joined her to comfort her: Stay with us. We are here for you. You can do it. The police soon arrived and carried them outside.
Loving was one of five people who died in the deadly attack. More than a dozen others, including Sanders, were injured.
Had another patron not stopped the shooter, the attack could have been far worse, Sanders says. “This man saved us all,” he said.
The community he has loved for decades — one that has loved him back — will remain strong, Sanders says.
“It will continue for us in Colorado Springs,” he said. “I think we’ll do well.”
For the LGBTQ community, Colorado Springs shooting meant ‘safety betrayed’
Sanders grew up in Missouri and then moved to Phoenix. He didn’t come out until he was 23. (He adds that his mother, who was always supportive, knew much earlier when she found his stash of pornography. “I thought it was cute that she knew,” he said, chuckling.)
But, he says, not everyone in the LGBTQ community has found the same kind of support — especially not in Colorado Springs. He has joined protests against efforts to restrict gay and transgender rights.
“I try to be a mentor. I try to be a friend, especially to the little kids because they need that,” he said. “A lot of them don’t get it at home, so I’m trying to have that spirit myself.”
A handful of the thousands of “golden friends” he’s met at the club over the years flocked to his hospital room on Tuesday night, wearing rainbow T-shirts and hats and carrying a bouquet of flowers. His infectious disease doctor — Sanders is HIV positive — also stopped by. “It’s wonderful that I’m still shaking hands,” he told a visitor.