Late Saturday night, a 22-year-old gunman opened fire inside an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring 25 others in a tragedy that follows years of escalating anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the U.S.—and, according to advocates, could have been prevented.
“It didn't surprise me; it angered me,” Erin Reed, a trangender activist and researcher, told VICE News. “It doesn't feel like this was inevitable; it feels like this is the point.”
Advocates and experts have long warned that LGBTQ people and venues could increasingly be targeted in person as Republican lawmakers push false anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and increasingly introduce anti-LGBTQ policies. This year, the Boston Children’s hospital, which provides gender-affirming care to youth, received bomb threats after far-right figures posted about it online and wrongly accused healthcare providers of “mutilating” and “castrating” children. In September, a pride center was vandalized in Florida, and protesters in Eugene, Oregon, threw hand grenades and rocks last month outside a pub that was hosting a drag queen storytelling event.
“All of us have been sounding the alarm that this was going to be the end result—we’ve all known it, and we've all tried to get people to listen to us,” Reed said.
In Colorado, people were already noticing an uptick in anti-LGBTQ sentiment, NBC reported.
"You can just feel it,” Parker Grey, a former regular of Club Q, told the outlet while pointing to the rise in violence targeting trans people, especially trans people of color. “As a community, being through so much grief and so much loss after so many years, it's almost like you can feel tragedy coming.”
Grey had stopped going to the club over a year ago, he told NBC, “because of the growing hatred for our community that started in the Springs.”
Though an investigation into the shooter is still underway, the gunman had been previously charged for threatening to hurt his mother “with a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition,” according to a press release by the El Paso County Sherriff’s department. The suspected shooter is also reportedly the grandson of a California lawmaker who previously compared the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to the revolutionary war.
“It has all the trappings of a hate crime. But we need to look at social media, we need to look at all kinds of other information that we are gathering from people who know the individual,” Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers told NBC.
For several years, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including incendiary anti-trans and anti-drag disinformation, has been making the rounds on social media and in state legislatures, pushed by far-right personalities, including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, and LibsofTikTok founder Chaya Raichik.
In 2022 alone, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S., according to Human Rights Campaign. Republicans like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio collectively spent at least $50 million on anti-trans ads during the midterms. Meanwhile, far-right pundits and politicians falsely accused transgender folks of being “groomers” and referred to drag queens as “pedophiles.”
To be clear, countless studies have affirmed gender-affirming care for youth is safe and effective, and has been endorsed by several major governing medical bodies, because it improves mental health outcomes for trans youth into adulthood. Children aren’t being forced to transition.
And for many, the shooting at Club Q feels like the latest escalation in a trend that isn’t going away.
“It was clear this was going to happen,” Reed said. “Weeks, months, a year ago, accounts like LibsofTikTok were displaying their hate online. People were answering in the replies saying, ‘These people should be gunned down’ or posting pictures of people with assault rifles… You see the constant reactions to the hate these accounts drive up.”
Club Q was gearing up to host an all ages drag brunch on Sunday morning in celebration of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and mere hours after the shooting, LibsofTikTok targeted another Colorado venue that was also planning a similar event.
Though Twitter has suspended LibsofTikTok’s account in the past, that hasn’t been the case yet this week possibly due to the firings and resignations of thousands of Twitter employees following the start of Elon Musk’s reign.
“The last few days have made it really clear that this is going to be a new reality for us; that the hate campaign and that the violence is going to be turned up,” Reed said, adding that Musk’s takeover of Twitter is also going to make things worse.
“It feels like hate is being given a bigger megaphone, a stronger platform, and access to more people,” she said.