Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Owner of gay club: Shooting comes amid a new 'type of hate'

The co-owner of Colorado Springs’ Club Q said that anti-LGBTQ hate has evolved from prejudice to incitement

  • Updated
  • 0

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — The co-owner of the Colorado Springs gay nightclub where a shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration into a massacre said he thinks the shooting that killed five people and injured 17 others is a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement.

Nic Grzecka’s voice was tinged with exhaustion as he spoke with The Associated Press on Wednesday night in some of his first comments since Saturday night's attack at Club Q, a venue Grzecka helped build into an enclave that sustained the LGBTQ community in conservative-leaning Colorado Springs.

Authorities haven’t said why the suspect opened fire at the club before being subdued by patrons, but they are facing hate crime charges. The suspect, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has not entered a plea or spoken about the incident.

Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend's hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children," Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today."

Earlier this year, Florida's Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill barring teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with younger students. A month later, references to “pedophiles” and “grooming” in relation to LGBTQ people rose 400%, according to a Human Rights Campaign report.

“Lying about our community, and making them into something they are not, creates a different type of hate,” Grzecka said.

Grzecka, who started mopping floors and bartending at Club Q in 2003 a year after it opened, said he hopes to channel his grief and anger into rebuilding the support system for Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community that only Club Q had provided.

City and state officials have offered support and President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden reached out to Grzecka and co-owner Matthew Haynes on Thursday to offer condolences and reiterate their support for the community, as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence.

Club Q opened after the only other gay bar in Colorado Springs at that time shuttered, Grzecka said, describing that era as an evolution of gay bars.

Decades ago, dingy, hole-in-the-wall venues were meant largely for finding a hookup or date. But once the internet offered anonymous ways to find love online, the bars transitioned into well-lit, clean, non-smoking spaces to hang out with friends and Club Q was at the vanguard of that transition, Grzecka said.

Once he became co-owner in 2014, Grzecka helped mold Club Q into not merely a nightlife venue but a community center — a platform to create a “chosen family” for LGBTQ people, especially for those estranged from their birth family. Drag queen bingo nights, “Friendsgiving” and Christmas dinners and birthday celebrations became staples of Club Q which was open 365 days a year.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Grzecka and other community leaders hope to fill the gaping hole left by the desecration of Club Q.

“When that system goes away, you realize how much more the bar was really providing,” said Justin Burns, an organizer with Pikes Peak Pride. “Those that may or may not have been a part of the Club Q family, where do they go?”

Burns said the shooting pulled back a curtain on a broader lack of resources for LGBTQ adults in Colorado Springs. Burns, Grzecka and others are working with national organizations to do an assessment of the community's needs as they develop a blueprint to offer a robust support network.

Grzecka is looking to rebuild the “loving culture” and necessary support to “make sure that this tragedy is turned into the best thing it can be for the city."

That started on Thursday night, when Club Q’s 10th anniversary Friendsgiving was held at the non-denominational Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church. Survivors, community members, friends and family shared donated meals under strings of lights near rainbow balloon towers.

Organized by the LGBTQ group United Court of Pikes Peak Empire, the dinner's bright atmosphere felt resilient. People smiled, squeezed each other in hugs and told stories from the podium about those who lost their lives.

“Everybody needs community,” Grzecka said.

Earlier that day at the memorial, a trickle of people walked slowly along the wall of flowers and vigil candles that had burnt out.

“I hope you dance,” someone wrote to victim Ashley Paugh on one of five white crosses fixed with wooden hearts inscribed with the names of those who had died and bearing notes scribbled by mourners.

On a concrete barrier a message was scrawled, “Please hear our calls. Protect us, our home.”

Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Fresh off a triumphant debut, French tenor Benjamin Bernheim seems likely to become a familiar presence at the Metropolitan Opera. Just not too familiar, he hopes. Bernheim, already a star at major European houses, is one of a new crop of tenors being introduced to American audiences now that pandemic shutdowns and travel restrictions are largely a thing of the past. He admits he was slightly apprehensive at the prospect of introducing himself to the Met audience as the ruthless, womanizing Duke in Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” His final performance in the role is Thursday. The Met has plans to introduce several other tenors from around the world in upcoming seasons.

French President Emmanuel Macron has paid a visit to Louisiana, the U.S. state most closely aligned with his country historically and culturally. Macron met with political leaders Friday and strolled through New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. He paused next to a street brass band and nodded and clapped as they played “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Macron also says he met with billionaire Elon Musk for a “clear and honest discussion” about Twitter, days after a top EU official warned that the company must do more to protect users. It is the first visit to Louisiana by a French president since Valery Giscard d’Estaing traveled to Lafayette and New Orleans in 1976.

Two power substations in a North Carolina county were damaged by gunfire in what is being investigated as a criminal act. A spokesman for Duke Energy said at a news conference with local officials on Sunday that the damage caused the night before could take days to repair. Power was out for roughly 37,000 customers Sunday. In response, officials announced a state of emergency that included a curfew from 9 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday. County schools will be closed Monday. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields says authorities have not determined a motivation.

Documentaries about Brooke Shields, Judy Blume and Michael J. Fox are among the world premieres set for the Sundance Film Festival in January. The upcoming festival in Park City, Utah, will also include films from veteran directors like Nicole Holofcener, an adaptation of the viral New Yorker story “Cat Person” and the feature directorial debut of actors Alice Englert and Randall Park. Programmers announced the lineup for the 2023 edition Wednesday. After two pandemic hobbled years, plans are in motion to return in full force for the festival which runs from January 19-29. Stars like Anne Hathaway, Tiffany Haddish, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander Skarsgård and Gael García Bernal are headlining some of the 101 feature films.

Police in suburban Atlanta say one person was shot and injured Wednesday in a shooting near the automotive center at a Walmart store. News outlets report that investigators said two groups of people had a dispute outside the store in Cobb County and shots were fired. The person who was shot was taken to a hospital, and information on the extent of the injuries was not immediately available. No other injuries were reported. Police said they detained several people for questioning but that no arrest had been made.

A surge of anti-Jewish vitriol spread by celebrities is stoking fears that public figures are normalizing hate and ramping up the risk of violence. Former President Donald Trump hosted a Holocaust-denying white supremacist at Mar-a-Lago. The rapper Ye expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview. Basketball star Kyrie Irving appeared to promote an antisemitic film on social media. Those are just a few recent examples of influential people abusing their platforms to amplify antisemitism in a way that has been taboo for decades in the U.S. Some people say the incidents harken back to a darker time in America when powerful people routinely spread conspiracy theories about Jews with impunity.

Voters with no religious affiliation supported Democratic candidates and abortion rights by staggering percentages in the 2022 midterm elections. The unaffiliated voted for Democratic House candidates nationwide over Republicans by more than a 2-1 margin. They voted against abortion restrictions in Kentucky in Michigan by 4-1 margins. They supported Democrats in other bellwether races by similarly lopsided margins. And the religiously unaffiliated are growing. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults identified as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” in a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center. That’s up 10 percentage points in a decade.

With many types of wildlife struggling to survive and their living space shrinking, some are finding their way to big cities. The United Nations says up to 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. Development in suburban and even rural areas is gobbling up habitat. The situation is stirring calls for “rewilding” places where wildlife thrived until driven out. Experts say cities offer many opportunities to support rewilding, such as restoring wetlands and planting flowers. In Detroit, scientists place wildlife cameras in woodsy sections of parks. They've recorded images of coyotes, foxes, raccoons and other animals that emerge mostly at night to roam and forage.

Jim Kolbe, who represented Arizona in Congress for more than two decades, has died. A statement from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's office says Kolbe died Saturday at the age of 80. Kolbe was elected to the U.S. House in 1984, serving 11 terms before he retired. In Congress, he often was at odds with other Republicans over his support for free trade, an immigrant guest worker program and gay rights. He reluctantly announced in 1996 that he was gay but said he didn't want that to define him. Ducey called Kolbe's life and service to Arizona remarkable.

Police say a teenager campaigning in a neighborhood for Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia was shot at the front door of a Savannah home. Savannah police said in a statement Friday that investigators don't believe the shooting was politically motivated. They say the 15-year-old boy was wounded in the leg Thursday evening on the doorstep of a house near downtown Savannah when a man inside fired a gun through the closed door. Officers arrested a 42-year-old man on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated battery. Warnock, a Democrat, is in the closing days of a runoff campaign with Republican rival Herschel Walker. The senator said in a statement that he's saddened to learn of the shooting and is praying for the victim.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News

News Alert