We take a slow, careful bite out of processing the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs. Host R.B. Brooks (they/them) pieces together what we’ve learned in the aftermath of the shooting, tracks the circumstances and context that produced the tragic incident, and grapples with key questions about how we move forward.
Take the Last Bite is a direct counter to the Midwest Nice mentality— highlighting advocacy & activism by queer/trans communities in the Midwest region. Each episode unearths the often disregarded and unacknowledged contributions of queer & trans folks to social change through interviews, casual conversations and reflections on Midwest queer time, space, and place.
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Host: R.B. Brooks, they/them, director of programs for the Midwest Institute for Sexuality & Gender Diversity
Cover Art: Adrienne McCormick
Content warning. This episode contains explicit references to anti-LGBTQ+ violence and related themes. Please consume responsibly and take care of yourself as needed.
Raymond Green Vance. Kelly Loving. Daniel Aston. Derrick Rump. Ashley Paugh.
These are the names of the five individuals who were fatally shot at Club Q in Colorado Springs late on the evening of November 19 2022, on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance during the most deadly year on record for anti-trans violence and mass shootings.
Heyhihello y'all, this is R.B. gently offering another episode of Take the Last Bite, a show where we take Midwest Nice, seal it in an envelope and return it to sender. On today’s episode, I’ll be flying solo piecing together various hot takes and data collection about the Club Q shooting. I’ll recap what we’ve learned in the aftermath of yet another gruesome instance of physical violence against LGBTQ+ people. I’ll also track the patterns that led to this moment and pose some questions about how we contend with the writing on the wall that predicts more incidents in the future.
[Audio from MSNBC’s The ReidOut broadcast with Brandon Wolf]:
“Ask people around this country what they’re most concerned about and they want to be able to put food on the table for Thanksgiving dinner. They want to be able to put gas in their car. And yet, we have an entire political party that’s being held hostage by those who are made uncomfortable or seem to find their insecurities rooted in a drag queen sharing how tall her wig is. If people wearing a wig, reading Red Fish, Blue Fish at your public library is the most concerning thing happening in your community, I would say you’ve probably got it pretty easy. We have a lot of problems in this country but that person you just saw on the screen is not one of them. And these people should be absolutely ashamed of themselves, that their rhetoric, that their vile language, has turned into violence in a community that is now traumatized forever.”
That clip is from Pulse Nightclub Survivor and Equality Florida Press Secretary Brandon Wolf as he appeared on MSNBC’s The ReidOut to discuss the Club Q shooting. Brandon also expressed his anger in knowing that he and others warned this would happen as a result of unmitigated hateful rhetoric against LGBTQ+ people by conservatives and prominent Republicans.
In many ways, the sharpness and heaviness of the Club Q shooting is made all the more jagged and grave due to the realization that this most recent incident means that little to nothing has shifted enough to prevent a repeat of the Pulse Nightclub Shooting on June 12 2016 (six whole years ago). That, in fact, the tactics used to control, monitor and repress us are evolving, our opposers are finding new ways of keeping us alert and wary.
Our collective reactions to learning of yet another deadly shooting against LGBTQ+ folks range from rage, fear, numbness, anger, even shock. But surprise? Not as likely. Because we continue to be shown– through words, policies, interpersonal tensions and bodily damage– that for us to gather in community and coexist as confidently queer people– is to be both cloaked in the power of connection and also to be a visible target to those who’ve amped up their hatred to the point of being capable of doing us irreparable harm.
To hear a survivor of a similar attack speak of his own anger, of warnings unheeded, opens up a bounty of questions about how do we move the persistent obstacles out our way, how do we coexist in communal spaces when we are targets, and how do we not retreat into fractions of ourselves when we have been violated?
There’s no simple or obvious answers to these questions or any others that have spurred up in the aftermath of this tragedy. During today’s episode I’ll take a slow and steady pace as we zoom out and really be present in this latest moment of pain and grieving. How did we get here? What are we supposed to do in this moment? And how do we move onto the next moment, stronger and more informed than before?
Settle your body and brace yourself for this episode of… Take the Last Bite
[INTRO MUSIC PLAYING]
Why can't we be in space with hundreds of other queer and trans folks and having these necessary conversations?
When it comes to dynamics around privilege and oppression, and around identity. Well intentioned isn’t actually good enough.
How far is too far to drive for a drag show? I don’t know, we’re in Duluth right now, I would straight up go to Nebraska, probably,
If you are not vibing, or something’s not right, or also like there’s an irreparable rupture, you have absolutely every right to walk away.
Definitely going to talk about Midwest Nice and if that's as real as it wants to think it is.
Midwest nice is white aggression. That's what it is.
Drunkenly loud bachelorette parties. A molotov cocktail. Predatory straight guys. Police raids. Transphobic building codes. Mass shooters. We are not strangers to the myriad ways our spaces, the ones we’ve carved out for ourselves, are disrupted, defiled, violated.
One of the most prominent events of commonly known LGBTQ+ history is the Stonewall Riots, which takes place in the aftermath of police bombarding an LGBTQ+ bar and aggressively arresting queer and trans people. In the simplest of terms, the cited “spark of the modern-day LGBTQ+ movement” was the result of an anti-LGBTQ+ attack on a cherished queer space.
Our history is much more complex than one singular event, but the widespread familiarity with Stonewall by the general public gives this particular incident power in allowing us to draw comparisons across time that most people should be able to comprehend. We are able to gesture to the Stonewall Riots, which took place more than 50 years ago, and point to incidents taking place right now as evidence that we have work to do.
One compelling essay written by Sunnivie Brydum and Evette Dionne called “The Deadly Consequences of Hate” pointed out that in both the Pulse and Club Q Nightclub shootings, patrons of the bars took action in the absence of police– in Orlando, police waited outside the bar for a long time before entering and intervening the shooter and in Colorado Springs, an Army vet is being lauded as a hero for tackling the shooter and containing him before police arrived. If we tie it back to the Stonewall Riots, the raid on the bar and the violent arrests of patrons was carried out BY the police. We can track that we are regularly subject to circumstances where we must defend ourselves even though there are institutions that are supposed to protect us.
Across each of these bar attacks, trans women, drag performers, femme folk and black and brown folk play a key role in leading the actions of the incident– at Stonewall, many iconic trans/drag femmes are cited as throwing the first brick to start off the riots, in Orlando, the evening of the attack was a dedicated evening for Latinx queer folks, and in Colorado Springs, a trans woman contributed greatly to stopping the shooter by stomping his face with heels. We can track that our trans femme siblings are always in action and we need to activate in alignment.
With each of these three bar attacks, none of them happened randomly. The Stonewall Riots transpired because queer and trans folks reached a breaking point after constant raids and disruptions to one of their few true joys. The Pulse massacre was carried out during a highly toxic presidential election year that had ramped up racial and other prejudicial attacks. And we are just a few weeks post-Midterm elections as we mourn the attack in Colorado Springs. We can track that in times of heightened politicization of queer and trans people, we experience severe brutality.
If we follow these larger patterns starting with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 into the present, we can see that the current political climate sets the stage for recurring attacks on LGBTQ+ people such as Stonewall, Pulse and Club Q. The perpetuation of false facts pushed by conservative politicians has churned up the recent animosity toward LGBTQ+ people.
Many politicians ran elections based on promises to protect women and children from the vile agendas of the transtrenders. Language labeling us as gr**mers, ped*philes, and child ab*sers seems to be making a surge and riling up the fragile masculinity of militant anti-gay right-wing groups who show up to drag story times and donut shops with bullet proof vests and assault rifles.
Just this year, we’ve seen headline after headline about extremist groups interfering with Pride events, drag events with a youth audience, and other LGBTQ+ gatherings. Let’s go down memory lane here for a second shall we?
In June, 31 men in Idaho got charged with conspiracy to riot after being detained on their way to a Pride in the Park event. At the beginning of November, a donut shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma suffered two separate attacks including a molotov cocktail after it hosted an art show featuring work by drag queens.
A few key incidents in the Midwest region are very close to (literal) home for some of our Institute staff. A drag queen storytime on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan was interrupted by members of The Proud B*ys who read bible verses over a loudspeaker. An all ages drag show in Duluth, Minnesota was met with yelling and vile signs from a group called Hold the Line Minnesota which travels across the state to station outside of similar events wearing bullet proof vests and harassing children entering the event venue.
We can track that nationalist/extremist groups view LGBTQ+ spaces and events as a threat to their ideologies and will resort to intimidation and harassment to terrorize us. A political climate that affirms fascist viewpoints the likes of these extremist groups ensures the continued terrorizing of queer and trans people.
Many of these extremist groups seem to have emerged out of or have expanded because of the January 6 insurrection at the US capitol. While this is not a part of the pattern tracking I want to pick apart in detail, we can still track that the discussions around the events that took place on January 6 have been contested, challenged and championed in obscure ways.
The January 6 hearings, which did not get the national attention the committee likely hoped it would receive, aimed to unveil all the ways key politicians and their supporters influenced the occupation of the capitol, at least subliminally if not explicitly and directly. We can track that the same individuals who orchestrated an insurrection, who believe that to be a reasonable and justifiable action, also believe that LGBTQ+ folks are harming children. There is no difference between the US Capitol and a gay bar to these extremist groups.
Politicians and political pundits have written the script on anti-LGBTQ+ talking points. We get blamed for wars in distant countries, the demise of higher education, the political correctness of children’s toys, and the inability to ogle over an M&M.
Sometimes it seems like they’re all battling each other for who can conjure up the most heinous and unhinged falsification for what our communities are up to and then trying to convert their fictional visions into restrictive policy. Unfortunately, sometimes they’re successful as we’ve continued to see an onslaught of anti-trans bills be introduced and passed across the country– all with similar language and objectives– to control the movement of queer and trans people.
What’s alarming is that it seems like these conservative politicians and media personalities are getting bolder about saying the quiet parts out loud– some going so far as to say we need to be imprisoned or executed without any consequences. It’s not hard to draw parallels between the ways our opposers envision our demise and the lived realities of violence, harassment and death that we regularly face.
One politician who is getting called out for her contributions to anti-LGBTQ violence is Colorado congressperson Lauren Boebert, who has been notably vocal about opposing trans-affirming healthcare and has participated in penning anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Her assertion of “thoughts and prayers” after the Club Q shooting was met with pushback, denouncing her as a hypocrite.
Having a U.S. Representative who says ridiculous things like “my pronouns are patriot” and introduces legislation that blocks funding for research into gender-affirming care is just the tip of Colorado’s complex political iceberg. Citizens of Colorado just elected the first openly gay governor into office, Jared Polis, who, after the Club Q shooting, named that this incident has to do with mental health, gun policy and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
But both Lauren Boebert and Jared Polis represent a history of anti-LGBTQ actions in the state of Colorado and one politician, regardless of party affiliation, cannot undo that history instantaneously. In the early 90s, Colorado reportedly earned the title of “the hate state” after a religious fundamentalist group called Colorado for Family Values championed an amendment that prevented state and local governments from adopting legislation that protected LGBTQ+ folks from discrimination. The amendment was voted into existence by a majority of Colorado citizens in 1992 but later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.
What’s also important to note about this story is that the Colorado for Family Values organization operated out of Colorado Springs, resulting in the city being called “the city of hate and bigotry” after the anti-LGBTQ+ amendment originally passed in 1992. And while that exact group does not function today, there are 18 groups in Colorado that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels as anti-LGBTQ+ or general hate groups– three of which are located in either Colorado Springs or the neighboring city of Pueblo, Colorado. We can track that conservative fundamentalist groups find Colorado Springs a comfortable place for them to carry out their anti-LGBTQ+ and overall hateful objectives. Imagine the dynamic that creates for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized groups who live and work in Colorado Springs.
In fact, as news coverage of the Club Q shooting quickly revealed, the nightclub was the only space of its kind in the area. This is not an uncommon occurrence for politically conservative towns and cities– for there to be only one space for LGBTQ+ folks to gather– if you’re lucky. So we can track that in a city with patchy resources and spaces for LGBTQ+ folks, the singular space that folks could rely on for a little reprieve from the cishet fuckery of daily life gets completely upended.
Now, I don’t want to give too much room to analyzing or pathologizing the shooter– ultimately the motives don’t matter because we are able to track that while this shooter may have acted alone in doling out the fatal shots, the context and circumstances surrounding Club Q, in a city with anti-LGBTQ+ history and functioning hate groups, with a U.S. congressperson who says vile things about queer and trans people, set the stage for these murders. The repetition of messages that demonize, villanize, and dehumanize queer and trans people become earworms for those who carry hate and resentment in their hearts and blow their trauma and their pain through other people.
GLAAD has compiled some useful and relevant data points in the days following the Club Q shooting, which I’ll link in full in the show notes, but there’s a few that I want to point out that really capture the current context of what we’re dealing with as we consider how we move from our reactions to responses in this moment.
At a glance, 2022 has been rife with more anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, which is a pattern carrying over from the last couple years. But a new flavor of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is emerging this year in which politicians are filing bills that would place bans on drag. Nine states have already introduced such legislation, including Michigan in our region.
GLAAD has also documented at least 124 instances of anti-drag attacks, including protests and disruption of drag story times and similar events. Looking at the list GLAAD compiled, every Midwest state except for South Dakota currently has at least one instance of anti-drag actions that have been reported so far.
Between the literal attacks, the fearmongering conservative media talking points, and the barrage of anti-queer legislation, it is no wonder that data shows that LGBTQ+ folks largely fear for their personal safety, especially trans folks. Our nightclubs, our college campuses, our small businesses, our modes of transportation, our homes are not safe. That pattern is all too obvious.
So what do we do about it?
This is not an exhaustive list, and some of these considerations aren’t fully fleshed out and may be flawed, but from my vantage points as a queer and trans event organizer in the Midwest engaged in sexual liberation and gender justice work– this is what’s on my mind.
Number one: we need to have thrush, relevant incident response plans in place for our events and gatherings. Many of us already do this out of necessity. Some incredible models of this are from those who coordinate and lead large-scale marches and protest actions such as those seen immediately after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.
This can look like delegating specific roles within a space, such as march monitors who look out for disruptions or medics that tend to attendees who experience small injuries or get tear gassed.
As conference planners, the Institute team is familiar with needing self-made guidance on what to do if our space is attacked, interrupted, protested, or experiences an unexpected crisis. We may not be able to cover all possible scenarios, but we’ve documented guidelines on communication and procedures we should enact if a series of incidents were to occur in our space. Something to keep in mind is that the spaces we are hosting events in may have their own procedures that could contradict our desires (such as a hotel calling the police in the case of a protest) so being aware of the venues rules and regulations is key in knowing how to keep your audience informed and as safe as possible.
As event planners and space curators, it can feel frustrating to know we cannot guarantee safety or security. But we can go great lengths to at least showcase intentionality and consideration for our communities by mapping out what we will do in various scenarios that could occur.
Number two: we need to combat as many forms of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-drag legislation and other maneuvers as possible. This is a fight in-progress and inevitably there will be legislation passed, especially in states and municipalities that tend to vote against LGBTQ+ interests, but with the recent midterm elections garnering a burst of LGBTQ+ and otherwise progressive politicians at all levels we need to identify who will take their policy-maker role seriously enough to kill these bills upon arrival.
Check out our show notes for a handful of tools that are monitoring bills that intend to inhibit LGBTQ+ lives and dedicate some time to learning about what’s going on in your own state– not every major anti-LGBTQ bill is going to get the same attention as Florida’s Dont Say Gay Bill so don’t let these egregious bills slip by unnoticed in your own state.
Number three: we must continue tracking these patterns and pointing them out. It is necessary that we build our collective consciousness and ensure our communities and aspiring allies are not fooled by the media circus and political pandering that will try to play off the Club Q or any other tragedy as an itemized instance unrelated to the perpetual dehumanisation of queer and trans people.
By tracking these patterns and naming them out loud, we document the danger that undergirds our daily lives. We can then extract lessons from the data found in these patterns and plan accordingly– plan our own safety measures, push on decision-makers to interrupt these patterns, conceptualize policies or protocols that prevent the continuation of these patterns in our own spaces. We can prepare for what’s next by ensuring we actually comprehend what’s going on in the present.
But it’s not on one person or one organization to hold all this knowledge. We require vast ecosystems of watchers, gatherers, collectors and trackers to help guide folks through the information (and misinformation) that piles up in the aftermath of anti-LGBTQ+ tragedies. There are organizations like GLAAD, the Trans Monitoring Project, The Trevor Project, the Institute and so many more who are hyperfocusing on particular patterns that ultimately all interweave and interconnect– data and information about media, mental health, trans violence, and Midwest queer and trans communties and more tendrils of justice work are all related and it will require holding all these patterns in tandem, together, to establish the clearest picture of what a liberated future will look like– one where we have ensured physical and emotional safety, one where we are not reluctant to gather in queer spaces. In fact, one where all our spaces are inherently queer.
As a reminder, this is not normal and none of this is okay. Being expected to move on with our days, surrounded by plenty of people who are untouched by the anguish of yet another devastating loss, should not be our reality. However, the patterns show that we are never given the proper time to grieve, to settle our bodies.
We are constantly in motion, shoved along into the next major newsworthy event, tending to the latest crisis of our loved ones, traipsing from room to room, some filled with meetings to strategize against our opposers, some full of people engaged in pleasurable bliss, some lead by instructors who don’t give a shit about current issues, and others filled with meaningful teachings about liberatory practices. We bounce around like pinballs within these polarizing spaces, forced into some– forcing our way into others.
As we enter and exit into familiar spaces, new spaces, necessary spaces, i’m reminded of adrienne maree brown’s principle of emergent strategy that says “there is a conversation in this room that only these people at this moment can have” and it is always up to those in the room to find that conversation. As queer folks with a long legacy of creating our own spaces, putting ourselves in our own rooms, we must not shy away from finding the conversation in the room that only we can have at this moment. Because if we do not find it, if we do not promote and push loudly and emphatically the conversation that needs to be had at this moment, no one else will. May our queer spaces, including our own bodies and minds, know some semblance of peace for just a few moments so we can collect ourselves and continue protecting what’s ours.
Much love and rest to you all.