In its darkest hour, when an armed attacker was at war with his patrons, Club Q remained what its clientele has long cherished, and what gay bars everywhere have been for generations: a source of kindness and community where people care for each other. .
After being shot in the back and leg, Ed Sanders collapsed to the floor next to the bar, next to a woman he didn’t know.
Sanders, 63, covered her with his coat in an attempt to protect her from any attack that might come next, he said in an interview from his bed at UCHealth Central Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs.
As soon as others in the crowd shot the shooter, other patrons rushed to help the wounded, he said.
“There were a lot of people helping each other. People who weren’t hurt helped,” said Sanders, who has been a member of the club since it opened two decades ago. “Like family.”
Against the backdrop of stories of heartbreak and devastation from Saturday’s shooting that left five dead and 18 others wounded, there are tales of heroism, selflessness, and deep compassion based in large part on the special kinship between queer people and their allies.
Along with the pain came an outpouring of love for Club Q and the people who made it what it was: a “safe space” to relax and have fun for LGBTQ generations in a conservative city.
This legacy should not be forgotten or ignored, regulars say, especially in an era of political attacks on LGBT institutions.
The Q Club was scheduled to host an “all ages” drag brunch on Sunday. Such events have become the focus of culture wars in American politics, with critics on the right suggesting they expose children to sexualized performers, and defenders on the left dismissing these arguments as unfounded and reflecting misguided stereotypes about LGBT people.
To understand what has been lost, according to longtime patrons, Club Q must be seen not as a threat, but as a refuge. They say it’s more than a bar or a nightclub – it’s a community center.
“It was home for a lot of us,” said Victoria Kosovich, 34, a transgender who lives in a rural area near Colorado Springs and used to perform as a drag queen at Club Q.
“In conservative cities like Springs, many of us were pushed away from our families because we couldn’t keep lying to ourselves and those we care about. When that happens, places like Q give us the opportunity to find a new family that we choose and, in turn, that chooses us.”
The day after the shooting mourners appeared outside the venue honor the dead, the wounded, and Club Q itself, so that the world does not understand the extent of their grief.
“We’re not just here to pay tribute to people; we pay tribute to the club,” said Shanika Mosley, 34, who was there with her wife, Jennifer Pena-Mosley, 23.
“There was so much laughter and love here,” said Sophie Aldinger, 23, a non-binary woman. “For such an ugly thing to happen here, it’s wrong.”
Sophie Björk-James, assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, has studied hate crime, anti-LGBT bias, and the far-right and religious ideologies that have propelled them. Despite so much recent rhetoric that “the queer community is threatening in some way,” she says, it’s important to note that bars like Club Q are the exact opposite: “incredibly welcoming places” that provide security.
“This idea of what this community is like is the exact opposite of what is actually happening,” said Björk-James. “Gay clubs are not
hedonistic hangouts of people who get drunk and dance. These are spaces that create community for people who have been rejected – many of them by their families, many by their churches.”
For nearly 50 years, members of the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community have raised funds for local charities through a club called the United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire, part of a wider charity that has clubs from Canada to Mexico.
They raise funds through drag shows, bingo nights and other events. They give it all to organizations that provide safe spaces for LGBT teens, fight cancer, and support other causes.
Joseph Shelton, 26, president of the group’s advisory board, said that Club Q is “nine times out of 10” where the group hosts events.
“Here we go after almost everything,” he said. “They strongly believe that every LGBT person, regardless of their identity and allies, has a place to go, have fun, be safe, and truly live their lives.”
Shelton and Sanders, who are members of the organization, spent part of Saturday at an event hosted by their group’s sister chapter in Denver.
That night, Shelton left his friend at Club Q, going inside briefly before heading home.
He was not at home for 10 minutes when the “empress” of the group, transvestite Hysteria Brooks, called and said that there had been a shooting. Shortly thereafter, Shelton’s cousin called to say that one of her friends had been shot at the bar.
Shelton jumped into his car and drove back to the club. Police cars and ambulances whizzed by; he tried to convince himself that they weren’t all for Club Q.
In the days that followed, Shelton spoke to bar owners and local LGBTQ leaders about what would happen next. Should the club reopen or become a memorial? Points of view differ, with the exception of one issue.
“We are not going to hide in a hole. We’re not going back to the toilet,” Shelton said. “We will come out of this bigger, we will come out of this stronger, we will come out of this wiser.”
James Slough another regular at Club Q. He and his boyfriend Jancarlos Dell Valle, both 34, met there about eight months ago. They came to listen to karaoke, drag shows or chat with other regulars and staff who were always “very nice”.
“We knew the owners. We knew transvestites. We knew people who called us by name, knew our orders,” Slow said. “Club Q was a safe place for me to find out who I am and understand my sexuality.”
On Saturday, the couple decided to cheer up their sister, Charlene Slow, 35, who recently broke up with her girlfriend. All three went to the club.
After a night of dancing, they were about to leave when the shooter entered.
Charlene was shot several times, including in the stomach. Her left lung collapsed. According to the family, she lost half of the blood in her body before she got to the operating table, and she will have a difficult recovery.
Dell Valle was wounded in the leg. Slow said he was shot in the arm from behind, shattering the bone.
According to him, after the shooting stopped, it became eerily quiet around, but techno music was still playing. It was scary. He didn’t know if the shooter had left or was reloading.
Then he heard someone – perhaps Richard Fierro, US Army veteran who helped capture the shooter. shouted for people to call the police, while others at the bar who had hidden or ducked to the ground “got up and started helping people,” he said.
A stranger approached him, examined his wound, said that he would be all right, and then kissed him on the forehead.
“It meant a lot to me,” Slow said on Tuesday, lying in a hospital bed. “Everyone who was not hurt did something. They went around checking on people. … It’s just a testament to the love and connection we all feel.”