COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Sprinkled with handwritten notes, stuffed animals and flowers, a memorial honoring the five victims killed and dozens injured last November still stands along the rainbow facade of the now-closed Club Q. The silence at the scene in front of the first anniversary of the deadly shooting evoked the pain of the community as it struggles to move forward amid persistent tension.
The queer community here is fragmented, divided over the Club Q owners’ goal of reopening what was once a safe, accepting space for LGBTQ residents. Survivors of the shooting also say they are concerned that the site’s management team is prioritizing profits over bringing the community together. Meanwhile, as the injured are still recovering (physically and emotionally), they say donations intended for them were distributed too slowly and with considerable bureaucracy.
“The community still feels lost, and I think they still feel lost,” survivor Wyatt Kent told NBC News.
Kent, who uses the pronouns he and they, was a drag performer at Club Q and lost her boyfriend, bartender Daniel Aston, in the shooting. They said trust has dissolved between what they say is the majority of Club Q’s former employees and regulars, on the one hand, and Club Q’s ownership team and the handful of survivors who are now working with them, on the other. the other.
Many survivors of the Nov. 19, 2022, shooting, including Kent, said they are uncomfortable with the idea of Club Q reopening in any form, whether in the original location or a new one. For months, they have been protesting the owners’ decision to reopen, saying it would force them to relive the trauma of watching a gunman open fire in what was once their safe space.
In February, the venue’s management team said that reopen the club in the same location and would add a monument at the site to those killed in the attack. Then, in October, it was announced that the the club would reopen in a new location 4 miles away. A former lounge is currently under construction at the Satellite Hotel in Colorado Springs, with plans to open by the end of the year, when it will be called simply “the Q.”
“There are incredible opportunities for our community to grow and find new spaces to thrive in. I hesitate to say the new Q space is that,” Kent said. “There are many other spaces in our community that improve more than something that seems like a financial take. “It’s disappointing, but we, the community, create our spaces and we, the community, stay safe.”
Michael Anderson, a former Club Q bartender who was working the night of the shooting, has taken on an advocacy role since the tragedy, including testifying before Congress in December against anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric. He now also serves as Club Q’s vice president of operations and has been the target of much of the distrust of other survivors.
“From the bottom of my heart, I understand the division in this community. I understand that friends are now fighting among friends and that everyone is turning on each other,” Anderson said. “I hope that we can make the decision as a community to say, ‘Maybe I don’t agree with what you did here,’ (and that) we can have these conversations and address the division and the differences.”
When asked specifically about some survivors’ concerns that Club Q management is, as they say, “trying to capitalize on queer pain” by reopening Club Q, Anderson called this a “false criticism” that he not “take seriously.” “
“My biggest concern is being successful, not profiting,” he said, referring to the new Q space as “a humble place.” “All people are welcome in this building. However, if you don’t want to support it, that’s perfectly fine too.”
Adding to the complicated aftermath, survivors say they have had trouble receiving donations raised for them.
About $3.25 million in donations came to people affected by the shooting through the Colorado Healing Fund, a nonprofit organization formed to help victims of mass casualties in the state. But survivors said they were dissatisfied with the organization’s original plan to allocate 10% of donations to the fund’s “administrative costs” and what they saw as a lack of transparency regarding the allocation of the rest of the millions. collected. They also said it was months before they saw financial help, including help covering their medical bills.
“It’s all been a healing process, but mostly a lot of ongoing battles,” Ashtin Gamblin, who worked the door at Club Q, told NBC News. “They won’t tell us what’s covered and what’s not. They are constantly changing their protocols. It’s a guessing game. We have to send receipts and hope and pray that it is actually worth something to them.”
Scars from where Gamblin was shot nine times are scattered across his arms, and one scar disfigures a tattoo that says “wait.”
Unable to work afterwards, and still in physical therapy, she watched her bills pile up. He said he bought a service dog to receive psychiatric care and now his doctors say he needs a temperature-regulated environment to avoid pain from his injuries. These expenses were denied by the Colorado Healing Fund, Gamblin said, adding that financial obstacles have affected his ability to heal.
This week, after a year of pushback from survivors, the Colorado Healing Fund announced it will release its remaining funds: about $120,000. Its press release noted that the organization “intended to withhold some funds to support the long-term needs of victims…but the immediate needs were too great.” The 85 survivors who receive this money are free to use it however they need. The statement also said the fund ultimately did not retain donated funds for administrative or other costs.
Club Q survivors’ frustrations over fundraising and divisions in the community come during a year in which hate speech and anti-LGBTQ legislation have become more prevalent. The American Civil Liberties Union has continued More than 500 anti-LGBTQ state bills so far this year, 84 of which became law. There has also been More than 700 documented incidents of anti-LGBTQ threats and attacks. in the U.S. in the year since the Club Q shooting, according to a statement issued Thursday by the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD and the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
“It’s scary to see the rhetoric spread, especially in the last year. There are times when I think about how happy I am that Daniel doesn’t have to see trans rights and queer youth being attacked,” Kent said. “Our communities are attacked every day and, unfortunately, it is not something new that we face, but it is something that is intensifying. “We have learned a lot and I think this year has taught many of us, as survivors and as queer people in the community, that resilience has power.”
Kent said Daniel reminds them that he is still present: in the rays of sunlight streaming through the windows and on the horizon of the landscape, but especially through the people they met in the last year who came together to create the Prisma Community Collective.
The collective will be a physical LGBTQ community space in Colorado Springs offering gender-affirming care and clothing, legal assistance, trauma resources, and a space to socialize. The creators say it will offer an alternative for survivors and those members of the queer community who may not be interested in visiting the new Q space but long for a safe and welcoming space.