Colorado Springs holds a dark place in LGBTQ history

Lbefore 19 Nov shooting at an LGBTQ+ bar in Colorado Springs that killed five and injured at least 18, the city had a history as a flashpoint in American queer life.

It’s in traditionally red El Paso County — home to three of the county’s five military commands and a region that former President Donald Trump won with 56.2% from the 2016 vote – Colorado Springs is home to many people conservative evangelical groups including, in particular, Focus on the Family.

In the early 1990s, the time when gay rights were subject to increasing restrictions in many places in the US, the city had earned a reputation as a center of anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Colorado became nationally known as the “Hate State” when it focused on family fighting for the passage of Amendment 2, a state bill that was written by a separate conservative group led by a local Colorado Springs car dealer. Amendment 2, which passed in 1992 with 53% of the vote, prevented local jurisdictions from enacting nondiscrimination protections for queer people.

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually struck down the amendment in 1996, but the policy’s effects were immediate, says Richard Skorman, a former Colorado Springs alderman.

Skorman tells TIME that the city soon “became a place where a lot of anti-gay think tanks were happening because of the success [of Amendment 2].” And although Skorman says many of the evangelical ministries that moved to Colorado Springs have since left, he believes much of rhetoric heard in angry school board meetings across the country today can be traced back to that time and place.

In 2018, Colorado Springs was at the center of controversy over Drag Queen Story Time, an event, versions of which are held in cities across the country, in which drag queens read stories to children at their local libraries. Club Q, the nightclub where the shooting took place, sponsored the event, which sparked outrage among conservatives in the area. Congressman Lauren Bobert, polemic-courtship A Republican who was fair narrowly re-elected to represent Colorado’s third district, has publicly criticized events like these recently as August. In a separate recent incident, Colorado Springs District 11 Board of Education Vice President Jason Jorgenson, apologize in February after posting a transphobic meme on his social media account.

Still, some hoped the city was changing. “[The shooting] was a particular hit for us because we felt like we were really coming out of a dark time … and a national reputation that we felt like we were finally getting over,” Skorman says.

Garrett Royer, deputy director of One Colorado, a statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, says the city has a very tight-knit queer population and has become more inclusive in recent years.

“Well [shooting] surprising? In some ways, no. But that doesn’t make it any less shocking. Colorado also has this dark history,” Royer tells TIME.

After the attack on Club Q — the day before Transgender Day of Remembrance, which commemorates transgender lives lost to violence — many in the small queer community of Colorado Springs felt a dark history coming back to life.

As community organizers struggle to figure out how best to help the community, Royer suggests the city work to create more support for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ population. Appointing an LGBTQ police liaison, a job that exists in some other cities, would be a start. “I think the police did a good job in this case. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to be done,” says Royer.

Both Skorman and Royer stressed to TIME that what happened at Club Q was not an isolated event, but rather part of an ongoing crisis in America.

A recent poll from GLAAD, the LGBTQ media advocacy organization, found that 48 percent of LGBTQ respondents are “more fearful for their personal safety” because of the current political environment. Among transgender people, that number rose to 72%. (The poll was conducted Nov. 16-20, although 89 percent of responses were submitted before the Colorado Springs shooting late Saturday night.) GLAAD also counted 124 separate incidents targeting drag events in 2022 so far.

“LGBTQ Americans report feeling unsafe, and there is documented evidence of this, even before this past weekend’s horror and deadly attack on LGBTQ people in Colorado Springs,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a public statement. “We have seen the consequences. We’ve seen enough. It is abundantly clear that something needs to change in our politics and media to reject the harmful rhetoric that leads to violence in real life.

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