COLORADO SPRINGS – In its inception 20 years ago, the location for Club Q was chosen in part for its location, far from the nearest streets, which afforded its clientele the protection of not being seen entering and exiting.
And while the nightclub has evolved into a place of refuge and comfort for the LGBTQ community, in ultra-conservative Colorado Springs, being Club Q has never been easy.
So the murderous violence that erupted there on Saturday night was immediately unimaginable in a place where people come to relax and be accepted for who they are, and somehow blended into the backdrop of a place that in many ways is different in positive directions – until a man in a body armor entered the club and opened fire.
For years, Colorado Springs has been a hub of anti-gay activism and has served as a home base for Christian think tanks and political groups hostile to LGBTQ interests, said Richard Skorman, a longtime city council member and local business owner. Their influence peaked in 1992, when these groups pushed for the passage of a state constitutional amendment that prohibited local governments from passing anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. The law was later repealed.
“We had that reputation,” said Mr. Skorman. “Colorado was the state of hate and Colorado Springs was the city of hate.”
During this time, his restaurant, Poor Richard’s, was repeatedly targeted as a gay-friendly hangout. Employees regularly received threats and bricks were thrown through the window.
Mr. Skorman was a member of a city council that recognized same-sex partnerships for city employees in 1999. Four years later, a more conservative council revoked the benefits.
But in recent years, anti-gay activism in the city has largely disappeared. The city now hosts an annual Pride March and a rapidly expanding population has weakened the influence of far-right conservatives.
“What happened is a tragedy,” said Mr. Skorman. “But I don’t think it’s unique in our community. It’s happening all over the country. There are a lot of crazy, angry people out there, and it’s very easy for them to get guns.”
And the aftermath felt more like an American horror than a purely local one.
About two dozen people gathered for a muted prayer vigil at a Methodist church near the nightclub on Sunday afternoon.
Those in attendance lit candles, recited prayers and embraced one another at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
“This club was a sanctuary for our community,” said Bird Berg, 31, a product manager at a grocery store who attended the vigil with her wife, Kourtney Berg, 31. “I’m absolutely devastated by how this can happen again and again.”
The Bergs, who grew up in Colorado Springs, said they’d been going to the club, which was open to underage patrons some nights each week, since they were in high school. Both knew two of the fatally shot victims.
Kourtney Berg said the latest tragedy brought back memories of another mass shooting in Colorado Springs in 2015, when a gunman with anti-abortion views opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine.
“To be honest, I don’t see a solution to these things,” Kourtney said after the vigil, wiping away tears. “Access to guns will never go away.”
Rev. David Petty, the pastor of St. Paul’s, recited a meditation he wrote five years ago after another mass shooting when a gunman killed 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival.
“After all, we’ve done this before,” Rev. Petty read. “We’re going to talk about mental health and terrorism, and we’re going to talk about hate and love.”
“We will shout opinions across the internet and unfriend those who upset us. There will be memorials, vigils, thoughts and prayers. We’ve done that before.”