(WB) Two survivors of the Club Q massacre on Dec. 14 testified during a House Oversight Committee hearing that focused on the rise of anti-LGBT extremism and violence in the U.S.
Michael Anderson, a Club Q bartender, noted he grew up in Central Florida and “was taught in my private religious school and by many conservative voices to hate who I was, that being born gay was something to reject.”
Anderson told the committee that he “waited, silent and suffering” until he came out as gay at 16. Anderson also said gay bars and clubs “helped me embrace who I was and formed me into the man I am today.”
“On Nov.19, 2022, a deranged shooter entered Club Q armed with an assault rifle, a pistol, an incredibly disturbing amount of ammunition and an even more disturbing amount of hatred in their heart, all while cowardly hiding behind a bulletproof vest,” said Anderson. “This shooter entered our safe space and our home with the intention of killing as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. They used a military-style weapon that exists solely for the intention of killing other human beings and began to hunt us down as if our lives meant nothing.”
James Slaugh told the committee that he was at Club Q with his partner and sister when the gunman opened fire.
The gunman shot Slaugh in his arm and his partner in his leg. Slaugh’s sister was shot more than a dozen times.
“The events of Nov. 19 were a nightmare come true,” said Slaugh. “Five wonderful people were still murdered: Ashley Paugh, Raymond Green Vance, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump and Kelly Loving. We miss each of you.”
“Club Q was a second home and safe space to all of us,” he added. “Outside of these spaces we are continually being dehumanized, marginalized and targeted. The fear-based and hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ community, especially around trans individuals and drag performers leads to violence. We shouldn’t have to fear being shot when we go to our safe spaces.”
Matthew Haynes, Club Q’s founding owner, in his testimony thanked local and state officials and LGBT rights groups — specifically One Colorado, Inside Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs and GLAAD — “for the efforts and support they have all provided to our community during this time.”
“We should not be meeting under these pretenses,” said Haynes. “I know that we as a community are in the thoughts and prayers of so many people, including many of you, unfortunately these thoughts and prayers alone are not saving lives, they are not changing the rhetoric of hate.”
Colorado prosecutors earlier this month indicted the suspected gunman with 305 charges that include first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime.
The hearing took place a day after President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act during a ceremony on the White House’s South Lawn. (Only 39 House Republicans voted for the measure when it received final approval on Dec. 8, the same day that Russia released WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.) It also took place against the backdrop of a proliferation of anti-LGBT bills that lawmakers across the country have introduced; an increase in online hate speech, harassment and threats based on sexual orientation and gender identity and anti-LGBT violence.
“To the politicians and activists who accuse LGBTQ people of grooming children and being abusers, shame on you,” Anderson told the committee. “As leaders of our country, it is your obligation to represent all of us, not just the ones you happen to agree with.”
“Hate speech turns into hate action, and actions based on hate almost took my life from me, at 25 years old,” added Anderson. “I beg you all to consider your words before you speak them, for someone may use those words to justify action – an action that may take someone’s life.”
Haynes in his testimony noted he received “hundreds of hate mail and emails” after the Club Q massacre.
“I woke up to the wonderful news that five mentally unstable faggots and lesbians and 18 injured,” read one of them. “The only thing that I’m mad about is that the faggots had the courage to subdue the wonderful killer. I hope more shootings happen again. Have a blessed day.”
“The shooter was doing God’s work, five fewer fags not enough,” said another. “Those that stopped him are the devil.”
Haynes told the committee that now “is a critical time for national, state, local elected officials, community and religious leaders to drop the politics and work with LGBTQ leaders and small business owners like me to support and affirm LGBTQ events, venues, communities and most importantly people.”
“We need safe spaces like Club Q more than ever,” he added. “And we need you, as our leaders, to support and protect us.”
Democratic New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s outgoing chair, in her opening remarks noted the Club Q gunman’s “depravity robbed us of five innocent lives” before she read the victims’ names.
“In attacking Club Q, the shooter attacked the sense of safety of LGBTQI people across the country,” she said. “The attack on Club Q is not an isolated incident, but a trend of broader intimidation.”
Inside Out Youth Services President Jessie Pocock in her testimony noted at least one of the massacre’s victims had previously visited her organization.
“This is not ok. This is not normal,” said Pocock.
Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson told the committee the Club Q massacre “is just one example of the violence that has shattered LGBTQ+ lives, families and communities in the past few years.”
“Violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ communities is the tragic result of a society that devalues our lives — particularly the lives of black and brown transgender and gender non-conforming people,” said Robinson. “And this hate and violence are on the rise.”
Robinson in her testimony cited openly gay California state Sen. Scott Wiener, who received a bomb threat earlier this month that contained his home address and described him as a “pedophile” and a “groomer.”
“Fueled by nearly unfettered access to guns, and political extremism and rhetoric that is deliberately devised to make our community less safe, less equal and less free,” said Robinson. “Violence has become a lived reality for so many in our community.”
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