Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway, and it's good to be with you. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
A little more than a week ago, a gunman entered Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He opened fire, killing five people and injuring almost two dozen others. The shock, the grief, and horror from this violence extended far beyond the city. Across the nation, local communities organized vigils of remembrance for the lives taken far too soon. Hundreds gathered in distant Palm Springs to say the names of those murdered in Club Q.
Male Speaker: Daniel Aston.
Crowd: Daniel Aston.
Male Speaker: Kelly Loving.
Crowd: Kelly Loving.
Male Speaker: Ashely Paugh.
Crowd: Ashely Paugh.
Male Speaker: Derrick Rump.
Crowd: Derrick Rump.
Male Speaker: Raymond Green Vance.
Crowd: Raymond Green Vance.
Melissa Harris-Perry: For so many, the attack on Club Q recalls the brutal mass shooting at The Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida, where a gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others back in 2016. That night it was Latin night at Pulse, and most of the victims were Latino. More than 6 years later, the shock, the confusion, the loss is still almost incomprehensible. Here's one survivor speaking to ABC News.
Survivor: How a person can do that to someone they don't know, they don't know anything about you, and you just walk into a building, and you just go, and you change people's lives so much, and it's unreal. It's unreal.
Melissa Harris-Perry: In this country, LGBTQ people are nearly four times more likely to experience violence than those who are not LGBTQ. 2021 was the deadliest year for transgender and gender nonconforming people since the human rights campaign began keeping count back in 2013. It's not just the violence at the barrel of a gun. There is also this legislative violence.
An NPR analysis shows that over the past two years, state lawmakers introduced at least 306 bills targeting trans people, more than in any previous period. For all the grief, for the vulnerability, there is still something else. There's a discernible if incomplete shift in a public landscape that simply does look and feel different in ways that are tangible.
In 1973, when an arsonist set a deadly fire in the staircase of the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, 32 people who were trapped inside were killed. At the time, it was the largest massacre of queer people in US history. Media did not respond with outrage, and the New Orleans community did not respond with public vigils. No one was ever charged in the attack.
Churches in the city refused to bury the victims' bodies. Indeed, some victims' bodies went entirely unclaimed by families who were too ashamed to be associated with their gay loved ones. This time, when a gunman stormed into Club Q, he was ultimately taken down by patrons in the club, including a cisgender male veteran Richard Fierro.
Richard was enjoying a drag show with his wife, his daughter, and friends. He and others put themselves in harm's way to protect, not only their family in the narrow sense, but their family, their community in the much broader sense of everyone there at Club Q.
Now, for decades, Colorado Springs has been the unofficial seat of Christian conservatives in America. It's home to the influential focus on the family major mega-churches, and for a number of years, the presidency of the National Association of Evangelicals.
These are groups that targeted the LGBT community with policies of exclusion. Now, as yet another queer community faces violence, it is not faced alone as many stand in open embrace, in solidarity, and in willingly shared vulnerability.
To understand what may feel like the best and the worst of times all at once, I talked with Nadine Bridges, Executive Director of One Colorado. It's a Colorado-based LGBTQ advocacy organization. Let me just start with how are you and your community doing? I'm thinking in this moment, especially in the holidays, when the families who have lost and the families in the broadest sincere, who have endured this loss, may be feeling it most intensely.
Nadine Bridges: I think this is a tender and vulnerable time, and I cannot even imagine the families who have lost close family and friends. It's certainly difficult. I've had very close contact with many folks in Colorado Springs area who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and yes, folks are sad and angry and hurt.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to talk about, and we've been talking about this a bit in our team around this worst of times, but also best of people's moment that comes at the intersections of this tragedy, of this violence. I almost hate using the word tragedy because it feels too preventable to be called a tragedy.
Can you talk a bit about both the rising tide of violence and the ways that there are community supports, community engagement, both within LGBTQ+ communities and in what we might broadly call allied or family relationships?
Nadine Bridges: Sure. In the state of Colorado, it's really interesting. We can boast as having some of the most protection of the LGBTQ+ community members than any other state in the nation. Yet we know on the ground that many communities are still isolated and that with the intentional negative rhetoric that has been out there on anti-trans rhetoric, as well as anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that many of the community members have worked really hard to build organic protections on the ground.
Those protections at a macro level aren't necessarily supporting the folks on the ground. The folks of Colorado Springs are beautiful people. They're very proud. The LGBTQ folks are a family, and they have been working prior to this to build family and connections and ensure that folks are proud, and now they're working even harder to heal and connect.
That goes with folks within community as well as those who are demonstrating allyship as well. We've heard a lot of folks say, this is not okay, affirming churches who are standing up against this intentional hate that's being pushed. I hate the circumstances, but I'm proud of the community that is standing up to fight against this.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I've wondered about this as a cisgendered non-queer person. In the aftermath of the nightclub massacre at Pulse in 2016, I wrote about having just the weekend before, spent the weekend with a queer friend of mine and how he takes me out, and we spend time together and often in queer spaces, and really trying to reflect on what it meant to be a cisgender person who can opt into or out of queer spaces in ways that feel comfortable, friendly, happy, enjoyable, and often safe.
Especially as a cisgender or straight woman that I could go to these spaces and dance and enjoy myself and not feel a predatory, patriarchal gaze happening, but then not to have to encounter at all points the realities of living with queer identity, which often means a different level of vulnerability.
I guess I'm really asking here a question about those authentic relationships with people of more privilege relative to some identities. What does it mean to be in those spaces to be making use of, encountering, engaging those spaces without having all the shared vulnerabilities?
Nadine Bridges: I think it's interesting because since the beginning of time, we've had those backroom spaces where we can just be. Whether it was in a basement or the back of the back, of the back of a club. It's a place where you can be seen and heard,[00:10:12] that way you can authentically be yourself.
I like to say it's a space you can be home. To have anybody try to take that away from us is disheartening. I appreciate you saying this also around I don't think cisgender straight folks understand the importance of having a place where you can hold your partner's hand or represent your gender, or dress and drag, where no one's questioning you.
At this point, in most places, we're not even worried about bathrooms. We're all just using the restroom when we have to, and you could just be free. Imagine what it would be like for anybody who feels the safety of being home for anyone to try to disrupt that, or to be a voyeur in that without understanding the beauty and the sacredness of those spaces.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm thinking here also of Richard Fierro, who is an army vet, who was one of the people who helped to stop the shooter, who was there at Club Q enjoying a drag show with his family. I thought, "Well, this is a different level of both vulnerability and allyship to be part of stopping that attack."
Nadine Bridges: Yes. Richard Fierro is a king among kings to have lost, as well as to say, "I'm not going to allow this to happen," and demonstrate duty, as many of our veterans do to protect our community. This could have been so much worse. Here's this seemingly straight man who was going just to celebrate, and to enjoy the night, and to be a part of our sacred community.
One of the beautiful human and I saw in the news this morning that there was another veteran who also helped take down the shooter. We don't honor our veterans as much as we should. We also don't honor the fact that many of them are inclusive, and support those who are part of the military who are LGBTQ+, and so I just want to honor that space, as well.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yet, I wonder about the ways that many of us could be working to stop the violence long before it starts. Yes, king among kings to actually stop the shooter, but I wonder about all of those legislative actions that end up with at least tacit or silent support of so many. How do you see those anti-LGBTQ, especially those aimed at young people, legislative actions, and how they're connected in this moment?
Nadine Bridges: Yes. I think, for those folks who are using our transgender, non-binary, or gender expansive youth who are attacking our LGBTQ+ community for political gain, for power, for talking points. I keep saying this, but how dare you? Their jobs are to ensure that we, as citizens of this country, can thrive. Their job should be to be focusing on housing, economics, and education, not attacking our people.
I think that the LGBTQ+ community, we will hold you accountable. We're not going to continue to let this happen. We know that these efforts are intentional. They know what they're saying. I just saw on the news just a couple of days ago, someone from a conservative church applauded these attacks, and we're going to hold you accountable, we're not going to allow this to happen.
On a bigger sense, the reality is that we have so much more work to do around gun safety and gun laws and common sense laws. This just can't keep happening. Six days later, there was another attack. This just can't keep happening. We have to do better. Our communities deserve to feel safe, whether they are at grocery store, at church, just hanging out with friends, or in schools. We deserve to feel safe at all times.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm going to talk a little bit about the Colorado Healing Fund. The concerns around the fund taking administrative fees from donation for Club Q survivors. I'm wondering if you want to weigh in on that, and also maybe even provide for our listeners any other space for those who want to assist survivors.
Nadine Bridges: Yes. I think there's many different ways to provide assistance to those in need. This is going to be an ultra marathon. For folks that I've spoken to directly in Colorado Springs who have connected around the Colorado Healing Fund, a lot of them have been talking about the fact that when the funds are coming directly to them, they don't know how to disseminate out that money in a way that's going to be the most equitable.
Although I don't know the full process of what's happening, and I just heard again on the news this morning some of the concerns, I am committed. I just spoke with someone earlier being on that advisory committee. I know there's folks in Colorado Springs who are LGBTQ+ leaders who are going to be on that committee to ensure that the funds that are being provided through that method will be given to the right people in the best way possible.
It's okay to be concerned. I totally understand that, and I think that people need to do what makes the most sense to them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Nadine Bridges, is executive director of One Colorado. Nadine, thank you for being here.
Nadine Bridges: Thank you again for having me.
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