Mourning the Club Q Shooting as a Newly-Out Queer Person

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It’s been a little more than a week since a gunman unleashed a reign of terror during an otherwise joyous dance party at Club Q, an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs, killing five and injuring many more. Already, the shooting is fading from the public’s attention, as the steady drumbeat of both gun massacres and appalling anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violence in the U.S. marches on.

But for me, the Club Q shooting was the first headline-grabbing attack on the LGBTQ community since I came out as bisexual in 2020. And I never would have anticipated how much it rattled, upset, and terrified me.

My girlfriend and I were on vacation in Nashville—that land of country music and Confederate flag bumper stickers—when I heard the gutting news. It’s one thing to watch these tragedies unfold as a sympathetic bystander but it’s an entirely different thing to viscerally feel the target pinned to your own back. I was horrified when I learned of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, of course—but it hit me like a school shooting, tragic in more general, human terms. This time, with the Club Q news, my stomach cramped with horror, as if my own queer friends were the ones in body bags.

This time, my stomach cramped with horror, as if my own queer friends were the ones in body bags.

If we’d been home in Brooklyn, we would have headed to our local gay bar for kinship and solidarity. Instead, I felt a strange sense of unease and disconnection as we tourist’ed our way around Nashville, rubbing elbows with friendly Southerners whose hats and T-shirts belied their right-wing politics. The man who put his dog in a FUCK BIDEN vest. The bearded fellow in a MAGA hat. The blonde woman in a Thin Blue Line jacket. People smiled and seemed eager to chat with us; no one narrowed their eyes or made rude comments about our interlocked hands. And that’s what was the most disconcerting: Half-ish of the country sees me as a nice lady in the streets and subhuman in the voting booth.

My partner, who has identified as a lesbian for almost 15 years, seemed less gobsmacked by the attack and the muted local reaction. The news was heartbreaking, she said, but not surprising. She felt somewhat desensitized to the hatred and violence that is, heartbreakingly, part of LGBTQ life in the U.S.

For me, the pain of being a part of a marginalized community in mourning was entirely fresh—and disorienting. Though I’d long questioned my sexuality, I identified as straight until my mid-30s, when, in a burst of bravery brought on by the pandemic, I switched my “looking for” preferences on dating apps and met my partner.

I grew up in a conservative, Christian community, steeped in homophobia, sexism, and purity culture, and many people in my family watch Fox News and vote Republican. I have no idea what kind of side-eye and scandal buzzed between my relatives when they learned I was dating a woman. But I know my family loves me, and when they finally met my partner, they were kind to her too.

So I wondered what they thought when the Club Q news reached them. After all, I hang out at gay bars and attend drag brunches. I go to packed, sweaty nightclubs for glittery queer dance parties where the bassline pounds as loudly as gunfire. I already knew this could put me in the line of fire—whenever I was at a packed Pride event, I felt a vague, prickling, “If somebody here brought a weapon…” But the Club Q mass shooting made it real.

And I don’t understand how GOP voters, including members of my own family, who say they abhor mass shootings and care about individual queer people, continue to support politicians who, at best, stand by while their party gins up hostility and encourages violence. I always found it disheartening. Now, it’s personal.

The Colorado Springs shooter’s hatred didn’t spark and grow in a vacuum. I’ve watched the right demonize queer people for reading storybooks to children and working as teachers while violence against LGBTQ people, particularly trans and nonbinary people, continues to rise. GOP candidates normalized the dehumanization of my community and told Americans in no uncertain terms that people like me are dangerous, disgusting, an abomination—and their message resonated with far too many voters.

GOP candidates normalized the dehumanization of my community.

And the hurt didn’t stop there, as conservatives reached new lows in the aftermath of the attack. Within days of the shooting, “grooming” trended on Twitter after a right-wing influencer tweeted, “Club Q had a grooming event,” with Tucker Carlson lobbing the same vile line of attack on his broadcast. Donald Trump, still the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, had dinner with avowed white supremacist and antisemite Nick Fuentes, who regularly rails against LGBTQ rights. Hell, the shooter’s own dad expressed relief that his child was in a gay bar not as a patron but to kill people.

No one from my family contacted me to express sympathy or support, not even after I shot off an emotional Twitter thread about it while crying alone in a Nashville lunch spot. Since many of my family members voted for Trump in 2016, we abide by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the most part—except when they bring up a political issue and I feel compelled to respond. This shooting strained the agreed-upon obliviousness.

On Thanksgiving, I heard from a loved one who wrote to say they’re grateful to live in America, “the greatest nation on Earth.” I thought then of the 22 people killed by mass shootings already that week. I wondered if their families held the country in the same regard as they celebrated their first Thanksgiving with an empty seat at the table. And I wondered if, should I have been the one killed, this loved one would still herald the United States for its greatness, with its shattered promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Back home in Brooklyn, I realized that so many of my hurt feelings came down to betrayal. I felt betrayed by my family for choosing their party over my safety. Queer folks who agreed to play by haters’ rules by going into their own safe space were still betrayed by an angry person with a gun. It even felt like a betrayal that the friendly tourists in NRA and MAGA gear who chatted with me in Nashville honky-tonks could be so nice to my face while endorsing the campaign of hatred against me.

That weekend, my partner and I went to a gay club in the West Village—just a stone’s throw from Stonewall, where, 53 years ago, people like me were also targeted for being themselves behind closed doors, that time by the police. At the upstairs piano bar, we belted out Celine Dion and showtunes. In the pulsing club downstairs, beefy go-go guys danced on platforms and a sequined drag queen emcee’ed from the front.

We made new friends. We clinked glasses and sang along to Mariah Carey and booty-danced to Cardi B. The vibe was defiantly joyful, and I tried to wrestle down my overactive imagination: gunshots ringing out, people hitting the floor and rushing the exits, pandemonium and blood.

Because I live in a country where it could happen to any of us at any moment. Where those I love vote for politicians who continue to stir up hatred against my community.

Where I live my life knowing that one day, it could happen to me.

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