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Days after a gunman opened fire at a popular Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub—killing five and injuring at least 25 others—residents say there had been a “growing hatred” toward the LGBTQ community and building tension in the city.
“You can just feel it,” Parker Grey told NBC News. “As a community, being through so much grief and so much loss after so many years, it’s almost like you can feel tragedy coming.”
Grey said the “growing hatred for our community” was enough to stop him from going to LGBTQ nightclub Club Q more than a year before Saturday night’s gunfire.
Colorado Springs Police have alleged that just before midnight on Saturday a man—identified by police as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich—opened fire with an AR-15 style rifle at the club, killing five and injuring at least another 25 people, according to CNN.
The first call came in to 911 around 11:57 p.m. and the suspect was detained just minutes later at 12:02 a.m. after he was subdued by others in the club.
“At least two heroic people inside the club confronted and fought with the suspect and were able to stop the suspect,” Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said. “We owe them a great debt of thanks.”
While authorities are still working to determine a possible motive in the shooting, Vasquez said authorities are considering it a possible hate crime.
“I want every citizen in our city to know the men and women of the Colorado Springs Police Department stand with you during this tragedy,” he said, according to KXRM. “We are working tirelessly to ensure justice for the victims in this senseless and evil shooting. Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ+ citizens. Every citizen has the right to be safe and secure in our city; to go about our beautiful city without fear of being harmed or treated poorly. I am so terribly saddened and heartbroken.”
The club’s founder Matthew Haynes also said the shocking violence “very much feels targeted.”
“He went in there with a definite mission,” Haynes said, according to NBC News. “So of course we want that hate addressed.”
The divisive climate in Colorado Springs has been evident in the local school board and politics.
In February, Colorado Springs District 11 Board of Education Vice President Jason Jorgenson faced backlash after posting a transphobic meme to his personal Facebook account, KOAA reported at the time.
The post depicted a transgender person at a doctor’s office with a caption that read “When you trans and you think you pregnant” with a large amount of feces on an ultra sound monitor.
Jorgenson later apologized for sharing the post, saying it was “not an appropriate thing to share” and that he “was not thinking about how the impact of this meme would affect various people groups in our community,” according to the news outlet.
A Colorado Springs high school junior, who is a transgender female, also started a change.org petition after saying she was kicked out of homecoming for wearing a dress.
"There's still so much hatred for our community and we're all just people trying to live our lives," Liss Smith, the communications manager for Inside Out Youth Services, an organization supporting teen and young adult members of the LGBTQ community, told NBC News.
Smith—a resident of Colorado Springs—said the state has had a lengthy history of institutionalized discrimination and pointed to a ballot amendment, known as Amendment 2, passed in 1992 that prohibited the state from enacting anti-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
The law was struck down by the Supreme Court several years later, in 1996, but Smith said it speaks to the history within the state.
"I don’t know that we ever believe that we’ve fully grown out of that," Smith said, adding that there had also been a lot of “encouragement in recent years” and growth.
Nationwide, the transgender community continues to be the target of violence. According to a report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, there have been at least 47 transgender people killed within the last year.
“This report honors the vibrant lives of our trans siblings,” Alexis vida Rangel, policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality said in a statement announcing the findings and honoring Transgender Day of Remembrance. “We are not just statistics. We matter.”
More than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have also been introduced over the last year in 36 different states, including Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which was later signed into law, NPR reports.
"You tolerate hateful language, it leads to hateful legislation and it leads to hateful violence," Kevin Jennings, the CEO of Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, told the news outlet. "This is not an accident.”
In Colorado, Rep. Lauren Boebert has brought forth possible legislation that would ban gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth. After Saturday night’s violence, Bobert took to Twitter describing the deadly shooting as “absolutely awful.”
“This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers,” she wrote. “This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.”
Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, told NPR it's not uncommon to see backlash after political and legal gains are made to protect the LGBTQ community.
"In this country, we go two steps forward and we often end up going several more steps back," Ames said. "We have seen incredible gains made legally in the last 10 years, 15 years. And we're starting to see the backlash against those gains and backlash so often falls heaviest on the least powerful."
For Jennings, Saturday night’s violence indicates there is more work to be done to protect the LGBTQ community.
"People, as what happened in Colorado Springs last night, are literally dying because of our society's failure to do the right thing," Jennings said. "We can't accept that. And we have to keep moving forward. It would be disrespectful to the memory of the people who died."
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