Editor’s note: This is a breaking news story and will be updated throughout the day with new information.
A gunman entered an LGBTQ nightclub and opened fire, killing five people and injuring 25 others on Saturday night in Colorado. The gunman is in police custody.
Though the shooter’s motive isn’t yet known, the attack at Club Q in Colorado Springs coincides with the rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, legislation, harassment, and violence in the US.
At least two club patrons confronted the attacker, who was armed with a long gun and at least one other firearm, and managed to subdue him, according to Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Adrian Vasquez. “We owe them a great debt of thanks,” he said.
The victims have not yet been publicly identified. Of the 25 injured, several are in critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds, according to NBC. Others were apparently injured while fleeing from the scene. The attacker is being treated for injuries, although Lt. Pamela Castro of the Colorado Springs Police Department said she did not know what those injuries entail. The suspect had previously been arrested for threatening his mother with a bomb and other weapons in June of last year, according to NBC News. Although the outcome of that case is unclear, a spokesperson for Colorado’s 4th judicial district attorney’s office told NBC that the bomb threat “is part of the investigation at this time.”
Police received a call at 11:57 pm describing the shooting and were on the scene in five minutes, according to Castro. Attorney General Merrick Garland has been briefed on the incident, according to the Associated Press, and the FBI has offered assistance to the Colorado Springs police department in the investigation.
“Club Q is devastated by the senseless attack on our community,” the nightclub wrote in a Facebook post. “Our prays [sic] and thoughts are with all the victims and their families and friends. We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
Authorities have not qualified the attack as a hate crime; such a charge depends on the motive of the attacker and whether the crime was committed “on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability,” at least on the national level. Colorado law stipulates that bias need only be part of the attacker’s motivation and specifically outlines sexuality but not gender identity as one of the classifications for a hate crime.
Club Q’s Facebook page advertised a punk drag show and a birthday party on Saturday night; drag queen Del Lusional, who performed that evening, described the experience on Twitter, “I never thought this would happen to me and my bar. I don’t know what to do with myself. I can’t stop hearing the shots.”
The shooter perpetrated the attack on the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance, an annual observance to commemorate the transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people killed in anti-trans attacks.
The attack echoes recent incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence
It also follows multiple attacks on LGBTQ individuals and institutions over the last several years, including a wave of attacks in the summer of 2021 on queer and nonbinary people near the Brooklyn, New York bar Happyfun Hideaway. In April, a man set another Bushwick gay bar, Rash, on fire.
The Colorado Springs attack has echoes of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, where a shooter pledging allegiance to the Islamic State entered the club on its Latino Night and went on a rampage that killed 49 people and injured 53. The 2016 shooting is the most deadly single attack on LGBTQ people in US history. At the time, it was also the country’s deadliest mass shooting.
President Joe Biden tweeted a statement about the shooting Sunday afternoon, saying, “Jill and I are praying for the families of the five people killed in Colorado Springs, and for those injured in this senseless attack.” Biden also acknowledged the stigma and challenges LGBTQ people still face, as well as calling for firearm restrictions.
Jill and I are praying for the families of the five people killed in Colorado Springs, and for those injured in this senseless attack.
While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that gun violence has a particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation.
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 20, 2022
Colorado in particular has seen several mass shootings in the past 25 years, starting with the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. On a national level, lawmakers have failed to curtail the national epidemic of mass shootings, despite their sustained intensity and deadliness. Mass shootings at schools including Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, and most recently Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas have taken the lives of dozens of teenagers and young children.
LGBTQ rights are on the line in the current political climate
Republicans have stepped up anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric in recent years, particularly against trans people. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation earlier this year preventing teachers in public schools from discussing gender identity or sexuality with students from kindergarten through third grade, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” the law reads.
DeSantis has also approved a measure banning Medicaid patients from using the service to access gender-affirming healthcare. That legislation will affect more than 9,000 trans Floridians who use Medicaid as their primary health insurance, according to a statement from the Human Rights Campaign.
In Texas, Republican lawmakers have pursued policies aimed at trans children, most notably targeting parents who provide their children with gender-affirming care. In March, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a directive to the state’s health agencies deeming gender-affirming care “child abuse” and mandating teachers and health care providers to report parents seeking such care to the Department of Family and Protective Services. This policy is contrary to medical science.
More broadly, Republican lawmakers in multiple states have restricted or attempted to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people, which Democrats and LGBTQ advocates say portends potential rollbacks on a national level.
To that end, the Senate, including 12 Republicans, has voted to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, which would protect the marriages of LGBTQ couples and repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The amended bill will return to the House for a vote before final approval by the Senate, likely after the Thanksgiving holiday.