Words about LGBTQ+ community matter, say leaders across Denver area in wake of Club Q shooting

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the wake of a deadly mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, leaders in cities and counties to the north are among those denouncing hate and violence. From county commissioners to newly-elected sheriffs, to mayors and chiefs of police, community leaders say words of support for the LGBTQ+ community are needed now and should continue beyond the tragedy. 

“Clubs like Club Q are one of our safe places where we can be free and celebrate who we are, but clubs should not be the only places we feel safe,” said Jessica Campbell-Swanson, commissioner-elect for Arapahoe County.

Campbell-Swanson, who is bisexual, will be the first openly LGBTQ+ member of the board when she takes office. It is a milestone she said signals a desire by many to see a commission that mirrors the community.

“I want the LGBTQ+ community to know one of us is on the board of commissioners, reviewing policy, looking out for us, doing what I can to make Arapahoe County a healthy and safe place for our community to thrive,” Campbell-Swanson said.

Five people died in the Nov. 19 shooting, according to Colorado Springs police. Another 17 were injured before the gunman’s rampage ended when he was subdued by bar patrons, including Richard Fierro, a retired U.S. Army officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as reported by The New York Times.

Police are holding Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who is facing murder and hate crimes charges. 

Police also tweeted out photos of the five victims: Kelly Loving (she/her), Daniel Aston (he/him), Derrick Rump (he/him), Ashley Paugh (she/her), and Raymond Green Vance (he/him).

Some families members issued statements to the press, saying they were not interested in interviews at this time,  including Kelly Loving's sister, Tiffany Loving.

“My condolences go out to all the families who lost someone in this tragic event, and to everyone struggling to be accepted in this world," Loving said in a statement. "My sister was a good person. She was loving and caring and sweet. Everyone loved her. Kelly was a wonderful person."

The family of Raymond Vance also issued a statement saying that he had never been to Club Q before and went to see a show with his girlfriend, her parents, and her parents' friends to celebrate a birthday. Although Vance is supportive of the LGBTQ community, he is not a member of it.

"Raymond was a kind, selfless young adult, with his entire life ahead of him," the family's statement read. "His closest friend describes him as gifted, one-of-a-kind, and willing to go out of his way to help anyone. He had just gotten a new job at a Colorado Springs FedEx distribution center and was thrilled to have received his first paycheck. He couldn't wait to save enough money to get his own apartment, but in the meantime, he lived with his mother and younger brother who adored him."

Ashley Paugh's husband, Kurt Paugh, issued a statement: "She had a huge heart. I know that Ashley cared about so many people. She helped so many people through her work at Kids Crossing, a nonprofit that helps find loving homes for foster children. She would do anything for the kids – traveling all over southeastern Colorado, from Pueblo and Colorado Springs to Fremont County and the Colorado border, working to raise awareness and encourage individuals and families to become foster parents to children in our community. This included working with the LGBTQ community to find welcoming foster placements for children. During the holidays, Ashley organized giving trees and delivered them to businesses so that foster kids could have brighter holidays – and in fact, she was setting up giving trees even last week, canvassing Pueblo and Colorado Springs."

Kurt Paugh called Ashley Paugh his "high school sweetheart" and  an "amazing mother."

"Her daughter was her whole world, and she was so proud of Ryleigh, who is a championship swimmer," Paugh wrote.

About 55 miles north of Colorado Springs, the president of the chamber of commerce in the Town of Parker was flooded with emotion when thinking of events over the weekend. 

“These places are so critical as safe spaces for a historically-marginalized community, and it’s hard to be reminded of how vulnerable they are to hate and violence,” said Parker Chamber of Commerce President T.J. Sullivan, who is openly gay.

Sullivan recalled the 2016 shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and said that bars like it are places to feel safe. 

“They’ve played a role for so many of us,” Sullivan said. “There are many LGBTQ+ individuals here, and countless families with an LGBTQ+ member. It’s so important that we elect leaders who are vocal that this is a safe place for everyone. If you have a loved one who is part of the LGBTQ+ community, give them a hug. We spend a lot of time worrying about our safety, the support of our family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors. An affirming word will go a long way this week.”

Sullivan noted that sometimes officials have used rhetoric that can be hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community.

Also listening to the rhetoric is the mayor of Littleton, about 66 miles north of Colorado Springs. Mayor Kyle Schlachter called the shooting “another unconscionable act in Colorado” and pointed the finger at homophobic and transphobic remarks from national and statewide officials.

Elected officials especially should understand that words matter and words have impact,” Schlachter said. “We can’t try to have this plausible deniability of an official … they have to realize people do act in response to their words.”

Roger Hudson, deputy chief of staff with Colorado's House Republicans and also a member of the Castle Pines City Council,  said in a statement to Colorado Community Media that "this violent attack is made even more personal because I am a gay man with several dear trans friends and a close family member who is currently undergoing her transition."

"These feelings of fear and the absence of community are all too real for some members of the LGBT+ community," Hudson said. "I wished I could say these fears were unfounded but we all know that is not true."

Hudson, a former reporter who has covered mass shootings, including Columbine, was in Egypt en route to Israel when he heard the news on the BBC.  He said he has pondered what to say publicly about the incident but has no "special wisdom to heal this terrible wound we all feel."

"I will, however, recommit to making myself seen as a gay man, elected in Douglas County, as a fiscally conservative Republican, who believes fully in the rights of ALL our citizens to lead their own lives, with limited government intrusion and safe communities for ALL our residents," Hudson added.

State Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, echoed that sentiment in a tweet after the shooting.

"When politicians and pundits keep perpetuating tropes, insults, and misinformation about the trans and LTBGQ+ community, this is a result," she tweeted. "I'm angry and my heart breaks for those who lost their lives."

In a statement to Colorado Community Media, Titone added: "The community is devastated by this attack, but we know that, as a community, we need to be resilient, as we have always been. The fact that (retired Army) Maj. Richard Fierro took his safety into his own hands to confront the gunman is a testament to our resilience and those who are allies for us. We need to stop the rhetoric and the damaging language directed at the LGBTQ+ community and stand up to it. We need everyone to call it out and show that we won't tolerate this. The LGBTQ+ community deserves to be left to live our lives in peace, free of harassment and the threat of violence."

Political scientists and activists have tracked a rise in anti-trans and anti-gay statements and threats in Colorado and across the country that can spark violence against those communities, The Colorado Sun has reported.

Schlachter said he’s seen it “ever since the 2016 presidential election when it seemed that there were no boundaries of what was decent anymore.”

Robert Dorshimer, CEO of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, has also tracked the indecency. 

“I am frankly shocked and saddened to wake up yet again to horrible news and more traumatic news of a hateful act of violence against the Rainbow Community I’m a proud member of,” Dorschimer said.

Located in the City of Sheridan, southwest of Denver, the healthcare organization offers care and services to high-risk, high-need individuals, many of them in the transgender community.

“No community should ever have to endure this horrible act of violence. We are once again saying ‘thoughts and prayers.’ Really?” Dorschimer added.

Chase Janis,  a member of Northglenn's Diversity, Inclusivity and Social Equity Board who is queer and trans/nonbinary, said it was heartbreaking to see the LGBTQ+ community attacked in place made for people to feel safe. Janis echoed the words of author Dan Savage.

"Our community was once so used to violence against us that these clubs/bars were one of our only places of sanctuary," Janis said. "When those were raided, the members of the community took to the streets instead despite their fears."

Janis recalled the Stonewall riots, "where members of our community were attacked and how they responded by getting louder, by being prouder and championing our safety." 

"So we continue that legacy by refusing to be silenced and by refusing to stop being who we are even in the face of hatred," Janis said. "We are here and we are queer and we are not going anywhere. Even in my grief, it makes me so proud to be a part of this community."

Golden Police Chief Joe Harvey said the tragedy had a significant impact on members of his staff who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“I know for those folks in my organization, who live that, that it strikes home for them deeply,” Harvey said. “They know that anytime they could be the person who could be a victim of this type of rage and hatred.”

In Douglas County, Sheriff-elect Darren Weekly called the shooting “a horrific event,” and said that “violence should not be tolerated in our society.”

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that its department was “deeply saddened by the senseless shooting.”

City of Fort Lupton Chief of Police John Fryar said the shooting at Club Q was “one of those very regretful things” and that his department is shocked by the violence that occurred there.

He also said that he was worried about the potential motivation for the shooting.

In Englewood, the City Council meeting began with a moment of silence for the victims of the Club Q shooting.

David Lewis, who chairs the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, gave an emotional statement at the Nov. 21 meeting.

“An attack like this doesn’t just impact those at the epicenter,” Lewis said. “This hits home for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. It strikes fear in the hearts of siblings, parents, colleagues, friends and loved ones.”

Lewis added that the city will defend the LGBTQ+ community. 

“There’s nothing that I can say tonight that will diminish the pain of prejudice and violence, but on behalf of the DEI Committee, I can say this: The City of Englewood stands with you, and we adamantly reject bigotry, hate and violence against the LGBTQ+ community,” Lewis said. 

The DEI Committee is made up of 19 team members from city departments, Lewis said. 

Chris Harguth, the city’s director of communications, said in an email the committee is currently formulating a roadmap with measurable goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The City of Centennial’s council meeting had a similar tone, with Mayor Stephanie Piko expressing words of support for the Colorado Springs community. 

“It is heartbreaking when any tragedy occurs in any community, and… we know what that’s like,” Piko said, referring to the 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial. “Just want Colorado Springs to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them, and hope that their community can heal.”

Councilmember Marlo Alston added: “I not only will be thinking about the community of Colorado Springs and praying for them but having conversations with leadership in various areas regarding this particular incident.” 

Allison Wittern, the city's communications director, noted that Centennial recently adopted a value statement. 

“In Centennial, we value kindness, integrity and diversity in order to build a strong, unified and inclusive community in which all citizens feel welcome and safe,” Wittern said via email. “In Centennial,  we value protecting the community’s physical and emotional well-being. The City of Centennial is committed to upholding, demonstrating and living these values and takes pride in this statement.”

The statement is echoed yearly in strategic planning processes.

Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet was  "sickened to learn of the senseless, horrific shooting."

"The City of Lone Tree extends our deepest sympathy and heartfelt support to the LGBTQ+ and Colorado Springs communities," Millet said in a statement to Colorado Community Media. "I know the Lone Tree community will join me in keeping the victims, their families, and the community around Club Q in our thoughts and prayers. We are very grateful for the actions of the heroes who intervened to prevent the gunman from taking more innocent lives and appreciate the efforts of the first responders who continue to be stalwarts of support and protection in our communities.”

Newly-elected state Rep. Bob Marshall, who represents the Highlands Ranch area in House District 43, said such statements are important to supporting everyone in the community.

“There is no doubt that rhetoric increases heat and (for) the fringe one-tenth of 1% out there, it gives them license in their heads to do things that normal people wouldn’t,” he said, adding he would call out that kind of language from colleagues as a legislator.

In a Twitter post, Marshall called the Club Q shooting a “targeted hit” that shows the importance of defending equal human rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

The issue of support has come up in his community recently. Earlier this year, he defended  a drag show event at a Highlands Ranch recreation center amid protests that claimed it was inappropriate because families used the facility. Marshall said the event didn’t cause harm and noted a variety of 21-and-up events, including alcohol tastings, that hadn’t received the same outcry. He reiterated those thoughts on Monday to Colorado Community Media. 

Marshall said he feels the laws already protect the LGBTQ community but added that he would defend Colorado’s current discrimination laws from any future potential changes.

This story was co-reported by Colorado Community Media's Robert Tann, Haley Lena, Nina Joss, McKenna Harford, Tayler Shaw, Rylee Dunn and Luke Zarzecki.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional reactions on Nov. 22 and Nov. 23.

club q, mass shooting, hate crime, lgbtq+, richard fierro, joe harvey, bob marshall, john fryar, darren weekley

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