On The Colorado Shooting, Queer Safety And The Politics Of Homophobic Violence

Just before midnight on Sunday November 20th, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich opened fire in Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs. The shooter killed five people and injured a further 17 with his semi-automatic handgun. The news sent shockwaves throughout the community, echoing back to the 2016 attack at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and shootings at gay bars in Slovakia and Norway earlier this year. 

A statement released by President Biden immediately after the shooting starts, “While no motive in this attack is yet clear…”  but goes on to talk about the increasing threat of violence faced by LGBTQI+ in America, particularly amongst trans women of colour. Despite Biden’s calls to “Drive out the inequities that contribute to [anti-LGBTQ+] violence”, mainstream media coverage of the shooting focuses almost entirely on the heroism of Richard Fierro, the cis-het army vet who was celebrating a birthday at the club with his wife, their daughter and her friends. 

Fierro disarmed and apprehended Aldrich with the help of two other Club Q patrons, naval officer Thomas James and an unidentified trans woman who is reported to have stomped on the assailant’s face with her high heel. Unsurprisingly, few news stories have given James or the trans woman as much credit for their bravery as they have Fierro and many made the mistake of calling the trans woman a drag queen when repeating Fierro’s account of the incident.  

Both Fierro and the news outlets have since apologised for the mistake but its bitter irony still lingers. Now stories are emerging around Aldrich’s “troubled past”, including that they were bullied in adolescence, changed their name from Nicholas Brink at 16 and was arrested last year for staging a bomb threat in their mum’s neighbourhood.

 Aldrich is currently remanded in custody and is expected to be formally charged at a court hearing on December 6th. District Attorney for Colorado Springs, Michael J Allen, said he will likely bring homicide and “bias-related” charges against Aldrich. In court documents filed last Tuesday, the public defendants representing the accused said Aldrich identifies as non-binary but the DA has said in a press conference that this revelation won’t change his approach to the case or influence his decision to file hate-crime charges. 

The suspect’s Gender-identity aside, this shooting at Club Q feels overwhelmingly like an attempt to harm and break the spirits of LGBTQ+ people en masse. It has rightly reignited the conversation around firearms regulation in America but very few are touching on the root cause of these kinds of targeted mass shootings, which is the unbridled bigotry that queer people fight against daily. The vapid, performative allyship of celebrity statements, tweets and posts that flooded social media after the shooting is simply not enough to soothe our collective grief in a world where homophobes and transphobes are being platformed constantly.  

All of the coverage around the attack and the fact that the story is losing traction already reminds me just how shallow and ceremonial LGBTQ+ ‘inclusion’ and ‘tolerance’ is in the Global North. A seemingly progressive part of the world, Colorado is home to America’s first openly gay governor, Jared Polis and transgender legislator, Brianna Titone. The state is under Republican control nonetheless and its leaders recently voted against banning conversion therapy. Amongst them is Lauren boebert, an openly transphobic and homophobic Colorado representative who was shameless enough to tweet ‘thoughts and prayers’ for Aldrich’s victims. When people called out her hypocrisy, she positioned herself as a target of the left’s so-called “blame game”. In a news interview following the shooting, she said that “We can not just continue to blame society for evil people”. 

Contrary to Boeberts beliefs, political and social analysis are critical in framing incidents such as the massacre at Club Q. What happened in Club Q was the tragic consequence of Aldrich’s violent impulses but in the context of a nation that passed 25 anti-LGBTQ bills (including 17 anti-trans laws) this year alone we start to build a picture of why certain communities are more vulnerable to senseless attacks than others.

Here in the UK, anti-LGBTQ hate-crimes are on the rise and all over the world people are being radicalised by far-right influencers and organisations like Andrew Tate, Proud Boys and Patriotic Alternative. As Queer people of colour in countries like the UK and America, we face the double-edged sword of racism and prejudice on the basis of our sexuality and/or gender identity. On top of that we’re also gaslit with the obligation of gratitude; we’re told we should be thankful to have evaded the lack of tolerance in our home countries and cultures by articles like this, that frame religious intolerance as endemic to “the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa” and articles like this that insist “Britain is one of the most tolerant places to live in the modern world”. 

These claims are hypocritical on two levels, the first being that Western imperialist powers exported their fundamentalist religious ideas on binary gender and same-sex relationships to colonised countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas and the second being that we still aren’t even safe here. For the third year in a row, the UK dropped down in ILGA-Europe’s ‘rainbow-map’ ranking, which shows the European countries with the most robust frameworks for LGBTQ+ rights. In light of this Nancy Kelly, the chief executive of Stonewall said “years of progress on LGBTQ+ policy that was achieved under successive administrations has been rapidly eroded by a UK government that has taken its foot off the pedal”.

2019 was the biggest conservative win in a UK election ever. Since they took power in 12 years ago we have seen structures that undermine our rights being reinforced on institutional and social levels, anti trans sentiment grow stronger and homophobic attacks become more frequent. We have to mitigate all of these dangers while watching politicians and opportunists fan the flames of ideological warfare. People with huge platforms built entirely on hate constantly present queer identity as a threat to tradition and to the innocence of childhood. This works against everyone, regardless of their proximity to or relationship with the LGBTQ+ community because all this ‘discourse’ really is is a dog whistle to the already disenfranchised and frustrated saying, ‘Here’s an outlet for you to project your anger onto that no one cares about’ thus turning us into societies punching bag and fuelling misinformation and misplaced rage. 

So if we aren’t guaranteed safety on this or any other land, even (and sometimes especially) in the spaces we’ve carved out just for ourselves, then what can we do for protection? The answer is, unfortunately, not all that much. Since resources are so scarce, we must lean into and strengthen our communities, in our immediate surroundings but also across borders and online.  We must uplift each other however we can, give to fundraisers if we’re in the financial position to do so or contribute through our art or manual skills so hopefully, if we’re ever in need of support, our kindness will be returned to us. We must also amplify (resonant and thoughtful) queer voices everywhere, engage in political and social action as much as possible and in our home countries (where we have ties). For self-preservation we must detach from any discourse that disturbs us or calls into question our validity, we must nurture ourselves and celebrate our vitality by continuing to enjoy venues like Club Q, because what happened there proved that tomorrow isn’t promised for any of us.

In memory of those who were killed in Club Q:

Raymond Green Vance (he/him)

Kelly Loving (she/her)

Daniel Aston (he/him)

Derrick Rump (he/him)

Ashley Paugh (she/ her)

And everyone else who has lost their life to homophobic violence. 

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