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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

It was never easy being Club Q in Colorado Springs

Community members tie colorful pieces of fabric to a tree outside All Souls Unitarian Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, the day after a deadly shooting took place at Club Q.

By Dave Philips, Simon Romero and Shawn Hubler

In its early days, 20 years ago, the site for Club Q was selected in part because of its setting, well back from the nearest roads, which offered its clientele the protection of not being seen entering and leaving.

And although the nightclub has evolved into a place of refuge and comfort for the LGBTQ community, being Club Q has never been easy in the intensely conservative Colorado Springs.

So the murderous violence that erupted there Saturday night was, at once, unimaginable in a place where people come to relax and be accepted for who they are, and somehow stitched into the background of a place that in many ways had evolved in positive directions — until a man in body armor walked into the club and opened fire.

Investigators were continuing to search Monday for the possible motive of the gunman who authorities said killed at least five people.

For years, Colorado Springs was a center of anti-gay activism, and served as home base to Christian think tanks and political groups hostile to LGBTQ interests, said Richard Skorman, a longtime City Council member and local business owner. Their influence reached a high-water mark in 1992 when those groups drove the passage of a state constitutional amendment that prohibited local governments from passing anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. The law was later overturned.

“We had that reputation,” Skorman said. “Colorado was the hate state, and Colorado Springs was the hate city.”

During that time, his restaurant, Poor Richard’s, was repeatedly targeted for being a gay-friendly hangout. Employees regularly received threats and bricks were thrown through the window.

Skorman was part of a City Council that recognized same-sex partnerships for city employees in 1999. Four years later, a more conservative council revoked the benefits.

But in recent years, he said, anti-gay activism in the city has largely disappeared. The city now hosts an annual pride parade, and a fast-growing population has diluted the influence of far-right conservatives.

“What happened is a tragedy,” Skorman said. “But I don’t think it’s unique to our community. It is happening all across the country. There are a lot of crazy, angry people out there, and it’s very easy for them to get guns.”

And the aftermath felt like an American horror more than a purely local one.

About two dozen people gathered for a subdued prayer vigil Sunday afternoon at a Methodist church near the nightclub.

Those in attendance lit candles, recited prayers and offered hugs to one another in St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

“This club was a refuge for our community,” said Bird Berg, 31, a produce manager at a grocery store who attended the vigil with her wife, Kourtney Berg, 31. “I’m completely devastated at how this can happen again and again.”

The Bergs, who grew up in Colorado Springs, said they had been frequenting the club, which was open to underage patrons some nights each week, since they were in high school. They both knew two of the victims who were fatally shot.

Kourtney Berg said the latest tragedy brought back memories of another mass shooting in Colorado Springs in 2015, when a gunman with anti-abortion views opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine.

“To be honest, I don’t see a solution to these things,” Kourtney said after the vigil, wiping tears away. “Access to guns is never going to go away.”

The Rev. David Petty, the pastor at St. Paul’s, recited a meditation that he wrote five years ago in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, when a gunman killed 58 people at a music festival in Las Vegas.

“After all, we have done this before,” Petty read. “We will talk about mental health, and terrorism, and we’ll talk about hate and love.”

“We will shout opinions across the internet, and we will unfriend those who make us upset. There will be memorials, and vigils, and thoughts and prayers. We have done this before.”

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