Survivors Of The Club Q Shooting Denounced Anti-LGBTQ Lawmakers And Activists For Pushing Hate Rhetoric: "Shame On You"

"LGBTQ issues are not political issues. They are not lifestyles, they are not beliefs, they are not choices. They are basic human rights."

Survivors of the shooting at a gay club in Colorado Springs testified before a House committee on Wednesday where they condemned lawmakers and activists for fomenting anti-LGBTQ sentiment across the country.

"Hate starts with speech. The hateful rhetoric you've heard from elected leaders is the direct cause of the horrific shooting at Club Q," James Slaugh, who was shot that night, told lawmakers.

Five people were killed and 18 others injured when a shooter opened fire at Club Q last month on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Two people confronted the attacker and subdued him before police arrived — heroic acts that officials said saved many lives.

The club was a safe haven for a tight-knit LGBTQ community in the heavily conservative Colorado Springs area, where an influential evangelical Christian movement has historically demonized queer people.

Slaugh spoke about the fear he experienced during the shooting. He went to the club with his sister and his boyfriend, John Carlos, and was just about to leave before midnight when the shooter entered and began firing. Slaugh said he was shot in the arm and his boyfriend in the leg. His sister, he recalled, was shot five times.

"I saw everyone on the ground, glass panes shattered and blood running from my arm and chest where shrapnel had come through," he said.

Michael Anderson, a bartender who was working when the shooter attacked, also recounted the terror he felt when the shooting started, and how he ran and hid from the shooter and prayed that it would end.

"This shooter entered our safe space, in our home, with the intention of killing as many people as possible as quickly as possible," the 25-year-old said. "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.

"I can still hear the rapid firing of bullets today," he added. "It's a sound I may never forget. It's a sound I hope no one here or anywhere else in this country has to hear."

Matthew Haynes, who opened Club Q two decades ago, said he recognized that their community was in people's thoughts and prayers.

"Unfortunately, these thoughts and prayers alone are not saving lives," he said. "They are not changing the rhetoric of hate. None of us ever imagined that our little bar in Colorado Springs would be the target of the next hate crime."

Haynes said they were lucky that the shooter, who wore tactical gear and was armed with a pistol and an assault-style rifle, did not kill more people. He brought up the charges that the suspect now faces: 305 counts, including murder and hate crimes.

"The number of 305 alone graphically illustrates just how heinous this act was and how many people in this community were impacted," Haynes said. "It also illustrates how much damage can be done when you take hate and access to military-style assault weapons. Putting those together is total carnage."

Since the shooting, the club has received "hundreds" of hateful comments, many of which praised the shooter and wished for more carnage, Haynes said while reading some examples. One of the men who took the shooter down, Richard Fierro, as well as his wife and his daughter — whose boyfriend was killed in the shooting — have also been getting similar hate comments, Haynes said.

He also called out the 169 House Republicans who voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects marriage for same-sex couples.

"And through your inaction, and your vote, you as a leader send the clear message: It is OK not to respect the basic human rights of loving who you love, and it is OK to disrespect and not support our marriages," he said. "We are being slaughtered and dehumanized across this country in communities you took oaths to protect.

"LGBTQ issues are not political issues. They are not lifestyles, they are not beliefs, they are not choices. They are basic human rights," Haynes added.

In the wake of the shooting, Democratic lawmakers and President Joe Biden have renewed calls for a national assault weapons ban. In his testimony, Anderson thanked Biden for his efforts and urged Congress to support gun reform.

"I plead you all to appeal to your heart, your morality, and your humanity to do something about this issue," he said.

Conservative lawmakers, pundits, and activists have stepped up their concerted attacks and threats aimed at the LGBTQ community, especially trans people. They have falsely accused queer people of being "groomers," targeted crucial support services for trans youth and drag events, and even threatened libraries that hold Pride events and hospitals that care for trans children.

Haynes, Anderson, and Slaugh criticized the hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ community that has led to real-world violence.

"Hate rhetoric from politicians, religious leaders, and media outlets is at the root of the attacks like at Club Q, and it needs to stop now," Slaugh said. "Rhetoric that makes people less than for being different, rhetoric that threatens to silence what sports we can play, what bathrooms we can use, how we define our family, and who I can marry."

Brandon Wolf, a survivor of a 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, also testified later about anti-LGBTQ violence.

“It’s really hard to have gone through something like Pulse and have a desire to make the world a better place and to ensure that no community ever goes through it again, and then to turn around and see it recur — not just in Colorado Springs but really around the country,” Wolf said.

Anderson also encouraged the LGBTQ community to live "prouder and louder than ever before."

"Events like this are designed to discourage us from speaking and living our truth. They are designed to scare us from living openly, courageously, and proudly," he said.

"And to the children watching this feeling you may not be like the other kids, I understand you and I see you. You deserve to be exactly who you are, no matter what anyone else has to say," Anderson said. "In the words of my personal icon, Christina Aguilera, 'You are beautiful no matter what they say. Words can't bring you down.' So don't let them bring you down today."

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