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Club Q Was a Safe Haven for LGBTQ People Before Colorado Mass Shooting – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Reese Congleton grew up in Colorado Springs feeling the need to keep her queer identity a secret, and because she hadn’t come out to many people, she was nervous about going to Club Q for the first time.

But on Monday, she recalled seeing the rainbow lights bouncing around the room and the lively crowd sharing her excitement. Congleton, 19, said she went from feeling too “celebrated” to being tolerated in public. … There is something very special about not feeling alone.”

In the mostly conservative city of Colorado Springs, Club Q has long been a focal point for members of the LGBTQ community — a safe place where many felt they could lose their guard and just be themselves. It’s a place LGBTQ teenagers can’t wait to be old enough to step inside. It is one of the first places new LGBTQ residents are sent to meet others in the community and feel a sense of belonging.

But that sense of security was shattered this weekend when a gunman entered the club while people were drinking and dancing – killing five people and leaving 17 with gunshot wounds. As the community mourned the lives lost, many also mourned because it happened in a place that is considered a haven for many who yearn to conform.

“We weren’t out there to harm anyone. We were in our space, our community, our home, enjoying ourselves like everyone else,” said Joshua Thurman, who was on the dance floor when filming began. “How can we do anything now, knowing that something like this can happen?”

Club Q is an 18+ gay nightclub and features dancing, drag shows, karaoke, and drag bingo, according to its website. His Facebook page has “Nobody Parties like Club Q!” and posts flyers for a Halloween party, a shots party, and sundries. Some described it as a cosy, welcoming place that attracted those who wanted to sit down to eat and relax, as well as those who wanted to dance into the wee hours.

The club’s doors remained closed after the shooting as many people laid flowers at a growing memorial nearby.

Stoney Roberts, the southern Colorado organizer for One Colorado, an LGBTQ advocacy group, described it as a sacred place and said the shooting felt like a “desecration.”

Roberts, who identifies as non-binary trans, graduated from high school in 2007 and couldn’t wait to be old enough to go to Club Q, which Roberts said was one of the few safe places in Colorado at the time Springs for LGBTQ was people.

“I grew up there,” said Roberts, who appeared on Club Q’s drag shows from 2009 to 2011. “Without Club Q, without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be the person I am.”

A sense of home for members of the LGBTQ community was what Matthew Haynes, one of the club’s co-founders, wanted to create when he founded the club two decades ago.

“There have been so many happy stories from Club Q,” Haynes told The Colorado Sun. “People meet and relationships are born. There’s so much celebrating. We are a family of people, more than just a place to have a drink and dance and go.”

Colorado’s laws are now among the most LGBTQ-friendly in the country, although it hasn’t always been this way, and Colorado Springs has been particularly unfriendly.

The city of 480,000, located 70 miles south of Denver, has long held a prominent place in the American evangelical Christian movement. Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian ministry that has campaigned against LGBTQ rights for years, is headquartered there.

Filming in Colorado Springs

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

People mourn during a candlelight vigil on a corner near the site of a weekend mass shooting at a gay bar late Monday, November 21, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

After the attack, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly said in a statement that the shooting “reveals the evil and malice in the human heart. We must condemn in the strongest terms the killing of innocent people.”

The city’s extensive military presence also contributes to its conservative leanings. It is home to the United States Air Force Academy, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Peterson Space Force Base, and a major Army base, Fort Carson. Many military veterans also live there.

After the shooting, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said in a statement that Club Q is a safe haven for LGBTQ people and “every citizen has the right to be safe and secure in our city; to walk through our beautiful city without fear of being hurt or mistreated.”

Congleton and Ashlyn May, 18, said growing up in Colorado Springs, they often felt they had to hide their true selves. May recalled being looked at in disgust when she suggested in a middle school class that Queen’s song “I Want to Break Free” was about coming out as gay.

Even now, “holding hands in public is scary,” Congleton said.

But Club Q gave them a place to be themselves. May regularly attends Wednesday night bingo, where a drag queen’s compliment on an outfit allays her insecurities. “Yeah, I’m hot!” said May, who was excited to take her queer younger sister to bingo at Club Q this week to show her “that it’s okay to be queer, and it is.” ok to love who you love.”

Justin Godwin, 24, and his boyfriend visited Club Q for the first time on Saturday and left in an Uber just minutes before the shooting. He said he thought of all the people dancing, sitting at the bar and enjoying the night.

“They are all there for different reasons, whether they are regulars, their first time, they are celebrating something. It’s just supposed to be a fun environment where we feel safe, where people aren’t judging you, looking at you or anything,” Godwin said. “You’re just being yourself no matter what you look like everyone just feels welcome.”

“It’s just crazy to think that someone had any intention of going in there and harming anyone,” he said. “It’s just sad for people who find a home somewhere and it gets ruined.”

Korrie Bovee, who identifies as queer, said Club Q is the cornerstone of a community of like-minded people who have each other’s backs in a city where verbal harassment is not uncommon and the freedom to be yourself is not always in Schools can be found or churches.

“My children live here,” said the 33-year-old, wiping a tear from her eye. “It’s just hard to know that I’m raising my kids in that context.”

Roberts said that as a black queer person, most places in Colorado Springs feel welcoming, but there’s always this “underlying nuance of recognizing where you are.”

At Club Q: “You can take a deep breath and be yourself.”

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Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writers Jamie Stengle in Dallas and David Crary in New York contributed.

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