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Biden calls Club Q owners as community grapples with aftermath

Focus on the Family headquarters vandalized

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Entrance to the Focus on the Family complex in Colorado Springs after the mass-murder at LGBTQ+ Club Q (Photo by Nic Grzecka/Instagram)

As the LGBTQ community continues to mourn the loss of the five people killed in last weekend’s mass shooting, focus is now shifting to a reflection of anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has evolved from prejudice to incitement according to Nic Grzecka, a co-owner of Club Q.

In an interview with the Associated Press, one of his first since the chaos of the aftermath created by the mass-shooting, Grzecka said he believes the targeting of a drag queen event is connected to the art form being cast in a false light in recent months by right-wing activists and politicians who complain about the “sexualization” or “grooming” of children.

Even though general acceptance of the LGBTQ community has grown, this new dynamic has fostered a dangerous climate, he said.

“It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today.”

On Thursday, President Joe Biden spending the Thanksgiving holiday with the first lady and family members in Nantucket, Massachusetts, called Grzecka and Club Q co-owner Matthew Haynes.

The president and the first lady offered condolences and reiterated their support for the community as well as their commitment to fighting back against hate and gun violence. They also thanked the two men for the ‘incredible contributions they have made and will continue to make to Colorado Springs.’

The president told reporters enroute to Nantucket, reflecting on the mass-shooting at the LGBTQ+ club and then another mass-shooting Tuesday, at a Walmart store when a night manager opened fire in a breakroom in Chesapeake, Va., killing six, and wounding at least half a dozen more, said he has plans to support a bill banning assault rifles during the lame-duck session before the next Congress is seated in January.

“I’m going to do it whenever — I got to make that assessment as I get in and start counting the votes,” Biden said

As the memorial outside Club Q grows, more attention is now being focused on the needs of the survivors and others in the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs affected by the mass-shooting.

An annual ‘Friendsgiving’ feast for the members of the LGBTQ community unable to spend time with relatives because of their being LGBTQ and which was normally held by the owners and staff of Club Q was shifted to a community dinner at the Colorado Springs MCC Church.

In an Instagram post, earlier in the week, Grzecka thanked Colorado Governor Jared Polis, state Attorney General Phil Weiser, Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and city councilmember Nancy Henjum in whose district the LGBTQ club is located, “for your hard work to ensure there was a Crisis Center to service the Club Q and Colorado Springs community during the holiday.”

Fallout over the shooting continues as anger mounts at what many in the LGBTQ community see as targeted hate amplified by a resurgence of anti-LGBTQ hate speech online and by right-wing media outlets and far-right figures such as Fox host Tucker Carlson.

Colorado Springs is also home to Focus on the Family, one of the largest anti-LGBTQ groups in the U.S. The Christian ministry group has opposed same-sex marriage, LGBTQ+ service in any branch of the U.S. armed forces and continues to advocate for the discredited practise of conversion therapy.

Late Thursday person or persons unknown vandalized the sign at the main entrance to the group’s headquarters complex. “We went out there to investigate if there was a crime that took place,” Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jason Ledbetter told the Gazette regarding the overnight incident. “There is no suspect information at this time.”

In a Instagram post, Grzecka displayed a picture of the vandalized sign with graffiti spray painted in black reading; “Their blood is on your hands five lives taken.”

In his message accompanying the picture, Grzecka noted:

Focus on the Family moved to our city in the 90’s, was a large group behind pushing through Amendment 2 along with Colorado for family matters. People such as Dr. James Dobson and Will Perkins have spread a nasty, false and hurtful narrative about our LGBT community.

Amendment 2 was passed in 1992, and Colorado Springs (El Paso county) were the votes to pass the amendment, the same amendment that gave our city the nickname “hate city USA”

Words have consequences and your continuous false narrative about the LGBT community has consequences,
@focusonthefamily this message added to your sign has more truth to it than you may actually be able to understand.

This is not vandalism this is not an attack on Christian’s. This message is just that a message that was delivered in a way to ensure you receive it.

@cityofcos, Mayor Suthers when can we meet to discuss how this type of anti-gay speech, is coming from our own backyard.

The Gazette also reported that people from around the nation are holding in-person and online fundraisers for victims and families of the Club Q mass shooting. 

While the state has an official online donation site, the Colorado Healing Fund, a private online drive, also has become one of the largest appeals.

Good Judy Garage in Denver, an LGBTQ business, raised $25,000 in two hours after starting a GoFundMe drive on Sunday. The initial goal was upped to $50,000 and now is at $750,000, as donations continue to pour in. As of Friday, the amount collected was $761,707 raised.

Link to the GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-the-club-q-families-and-survivors.

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Colorado

US Navy officer given valor award for actions during Club Q shooting

Massacre at LGBTQ nightclub in Colo. took place last November

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Information Systems Technician Second Class Thomas James, right, receives the Navy and Marine Corps Medal from Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, director of Plans, Policy and Strategy for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, at a ceremony at Peterson Space Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colo., on Oct. 5, 2023. (Photo by Joshua Armstrong/Defense Department)

U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal last week for his actions taken as one of the three persons who tackled and then disarmed the shooter in the LGBTQ Club Q nightclub mass shooting in Colorado Springs last November.

According to Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez at a press conference last year, James, U.S. Army veteran Rich Fierro and a transgender woman all joined in the courageous takedown, disarming the 22-year-old suspect and holding him until the arrival by responding Colorado Springs police officers.

James had grabbed the barrel of the weapon and restrained the gunman until the police arrived and took the assailant into custody, a Navy press release said.

He suffered a gunshot wound in his abdomen and burned his hands as a result of his actions. Still, he offered his seat in an ambulance to another injured person.

“I simply wanted to save the family I found,” James, originally from West Virginia, said in a statement in November 2022. “If I had my way, I would shield everyone I could from the nonsensical acts of hate in the world, but I am only one person.”

The shooter walked into Club Q late on Nov. 19, 2022, with multiple firearms and is accused of killing five people. At least 18 others were injured.

U.S. Navy Information Systems Technician Petty Officer Second Class Thomas James (Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Public Affairs)

The Navy Times reported that Rear Adm. Scott Robertson, director of Plans, Policy and Strategy for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, presented the award to James on Oct. 5 at Peterson Space Forces Base in Colorado Springs.

Robertson said ahead of the ceremony he asked James, who is assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency, why he chose to act the way he did.

“He said, ‘I wanted to buy time for my friends. I wanted to protect my community,’” Robertson said at the ceremony, according to the Navy press release.

Robertson also said James’ actions caused him to reflect on how he himself would have responded if put in the same situation.

“I myself can only hope that I would channel the courage in our Navy core values like he did,” Admiral Robertson said at the ceremony. “But, we don’t have to wait for crisis to apply core values. We can and should apply them every day. That’s what I am taking away from the lessons you taught us all.”

The Navy and Marine Corps Medal is the highest noncombat award for heroism and typically is awarded to those who put their own life in jeopardy.

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Colorado

Club Q shooter sentenced to life without possibility of parole

Gunman pleaded guilty before judge imposed sentence

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El Paso County District Attorney Michael J. Allen on June 26, 2023, announces plea deal with shooter in the Club Q mass shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo. (YouTube screenshot from KRDO)

In a press conference Monday after the final court hearing, El Paso County (Colo.) District Attorney Michael J. Allen announced that a plea deal had been reached with the shooter in last November’s mass shooting at the LGBTQ entertainment venue Club Q. 

Colorado Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Michael McHenry accepted the plea deal worked out with Allen’s office where Anderson Lee Aldrich, 23, pleaded guilty to five counts of murder in the first degree, 46 counts of attempted murder in the first degree. 

McHenry said that Aldrich will receive five consecutive life sentences without the possibility for parole on the murder charges, and will also receive 46 consecutive 48-year sentences for the attempted murder counts, which totals 2,208 years, followed by mandatory periods of parole. This is a final decision — a trial can not happen at a later date.

Prior to sentencing, the first victim impact statements came from the loved ones of the five murdered victims:

  • Daniel Aston
  • Kelly Loving
  • Derrick Rump
  • Ashley Paugh
  • Raymond Vance

Which was followed by the statements on behalf of the other victims, survivors and families of survivors.

In addition to Allen, other officials including Colorado Springs Mayor Yemi Mobolade, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez, Deputy Fire Chief of Operations Jayme McConnellogue, former Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers along with representatives of the FBI, sheriff’s office and others spoke to the gathered reporters, witnesses families and victims.

Vasquez noted that while the families of those killed will never get their loved ones back and survivors will never will forget their experience, Vasquez vowed “that we will never forget.” He then listed the five victims by name pivoting the highlight and praise the heroic acts that happened in the moments during and directly after the gunman was tackled and held down by other two other club goers, one of whom had been shot and seriously wounded.

The chief thanked the LGBTQ community for “their patience,” and he then introduced Mobolade.

Mobolade, a Nigerian American businessman and politician and the city’s first Black mayor, opened his remarks by addressing the victim’s families and survivors.

“We see you, we remember you and we will be here for you, that’s my pledge” he said.

McConnellogue, told those assembled that as the mother of a gay son, the impact of the shooting was felt throughout the entire community of Colorado Springs. The chief ended her emotional statement quoting by name slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk saying: “Hope is never silent.”

KRDO

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Trans Colo. State Rep. Titone shares lessons from legislative victories

Lawmaker passed major bills on trans rights, abortion, ‘right to repair’

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Colo. state Rep. Brianna Titone (D) (Photo courtesy of Brianna Titone)

Recently, the focus of interviews of trans Colorado State Rep. Brianna Titone (D) have largely been defined by matters like last November’s deadly anti-LGBTQ shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs and the escalating legislative attacks on the trans community. 

However, when she sat down with the Washington Blade on Thursday in the Washington, D.C. offices of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Institute, Titone dove into another challenge that she, perhaps more than any other state lawmaker, has taken on directly: Why is it so difficult, or even impossible, for consumers, even those with the inclination and know-how, to repair their automobiles, wheelchairs, farm equipment, and electronics like printers, smartphones, and, as Titone experienced, video game consoles? 

A self-described “tinkerer and scientist” who has a degree in information communications technology and considerable programming experience, Titone was dogged by the question after discovering there was no way for her to fix the optical drive of her Xbox. “I couldn’t even figure out how to open the thing because there’s not even a screw on it,” she said. 

As it turned out, the answer was even more frustrating. 

Reading about the “right to repair” movement, Titone learned how manufacturers deliberately, anticompetitively, and, many argue, unlawfully erect barriers that discourage or prohibit their customers from fixing certain products – by, for example, allowing only the manufacturer’s own maintenance services, restricting access to tools and components, and implementing software barriers. 

Titone was first elected in 2018, becoming Colorado’s first openly trans state lawmaker and only the fourth in the U.S. Shortly afterwards, she said, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) – who is the country’s second openly LGBTQ governor – asked Titone to create and introduce a right to repair bill. 

She was ultimately successful by strategically taking on one industry at a time. Meanwhile, among the other issues Titone was working on was a bill protecting trans Coloradans’ access to healthcare, which she passed by taking the exact opposite approach. 

As Titone quickly learned, when it comes to right to repair, new legislation from federal or state lawmakers or new rules by the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection are met with powerful opposition from well-resourced industries backed by armies of lawyers and lobbyists. With her bill, Titone took on three: manufacturers of electric wheelchairs, farm equipment, and consumer electronics. 

Titone told the Blade her first right to repair bill was tabled as the legislature worked to prioritize pandemic-related matters, and her second attempt was stymied in committee, having faced an “immense” lobbying effort, particularly from consumer electronics companies. 

Partially because electric wheelchairs are often owned by Medicaid and purchased by insurance providers, they can be extremely costly and difficult to repair. As one patient with multiple sclerosis told Colorado Public Radio, each of the many adjustments that were necessary to accommodate his needs required a service visit from a technician, who made each fix with a smartphone app. It was available to download on the App Store – but only for “authorized users.”

Of all the witnesses who were called to testify in favor of Titone’s bill, she said it was these Coloradans whom her colleagues considered the most compelling. So, in 2021, Titone introduced a third right to repair bill focused only on electric wheelchairs, and “we were able to pull the heartstrings of the committee [members] so the legislature would pass it,” she said, adding, “it wasn’t an overwhelming vote, but I did get a couple of Republicans.” 

When the measure was signed into law in March, it became just the second statewide right to repair law since Massachusetts’s successful ballot initiative in 2012, which focused on automobiles. “My bill,” Titone said, “was the first right to repair bill after many, many, many attempts by many states over the last four or five years.” 

Up next was farm equipment. Companies like John Deere, the sector’s largest manufacturer, have long been criticized for using software locks to prevent customers from fixing their tractors. And on the day in which the Colorado Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources was set to debate Titone’s bill, the industry submitted a memorandum of understanding that was intended to allay concerns, likely in an effort to forestall the right to repair law. 

“But we still we still went forward,” Titone said, “we still passed the law” with Polis’s signature on April 25. 

Colorado’s legislative session wrapped in May, but Titone expects to turn her attention next to the consumer electronics industry. In the meantime, she hopes to use some of her time in Washington to share experiences and insights that might help shore up efforts to pass federal right to repair protections like the Agriculture Right to Repair Act introduced last year by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). 

The primary reason, however, that Titone was in the nation’s capital was for a White House State Legislative Convening on Reproductive Rights, held on Thursday with Vice President Kamala Harris and officials from the administration like White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.  

Titone has considerable experience and insight to offer on this front, too – having successfully led passage of legislation protecting reproductive freedoms with provisions also guarding Coloradans’ access to gender affirming care. 

 Grouping these issues together in one bill, a departure from how she advanced the right to repair legislation, proved to be a winning strategy.  

Linking reproductive and gender related healthcare protections makes a lot of sense.

For one thing, Titone said, reproductive healthcare and guideline directed gender affirming healthcare interventions largely concern the same biological systems (sex hormones, for example). She added the overlaps only continue from there, extending all the way to the methods and tactics used by anti-abortion and anti-trans activists.  

For example, she noted, lawmakers in conservative states are looking for ways to prevent transgender residents and their families from crossing into other states to access gender affirming treatments that they have banned or restricted within their own borders. 

Likewise, the Washington Post reported that shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to abortion last year, conservative legal activists drafted model legislation that “would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a resident of a state that has banned abortion from terminating a pregnancy outside of that state.”

“It hasn’t come to the same level that abortion has, but those same aspects of attacking people [who are] getting this kind of care could easily be translated to gender affirming care,” Titone said. 

“Why should we stop at abortion care and leave this group of people out when [opponents are] just going to clone the bills that they have against the abortion providers and seekers to [target] the gender affirming care providers and seekers?” 

Perhaps even more fundamental and more salient, Titone said, is how privacy and autonomy are under attack whether the targets are reproductive rights or the rights to access gender affirming care. “What does a politician have to do with a medical decision?” 

Another important feature is the bedrock of support for access to both reproductive and gender affirming care, which comes from every scientific and medical institution with relevant expertise, Titone noted. 

Even in liberal Colorado, passing Titone’s bill was a considerable challenge politically.

Titone said that ultimately, because gender affirming care is comparably more controversial than reproductive care, bundling them together in one bill weakened opposition from Republicans because most voters support access to safe and legal abortions. 

“When I debated my bill,” Titone said, she told Republicans, “Look, this is the wrong issue for you to debate because when I [knocked on] doors, people said abortion was one of the issues that made them vote for Democrats.” 

Still, some GOP members like Colorado’s House Minority Leader Mike Lynch objected to the provisions in Titone’s legislation protecting abortion seekers from coming to Colorado from neighboring states that have restricted access to the procedure. 

Titone’s bill also protects the right of people in all states to travel to Colorado to begin puberty blocking medication or undergo gender-affirming surgery without the risk of interstate prosecution. 

The lawmaker said debates in the legislature over, especially, the gender affirming care provisions in the bill “really showed some of the true colors of some of my colleagues.” For example, she said one member argued access to gender affirming care “leads to people being murdered,” pointing to the Nashville elementary school shooting in March that was committed by a trans gunman. Another member, she said, publicly declared during multiple town hall style events that he would never use Titone’s feminine pronouns.  

“I expected these things,” Titone said, noting that “the attacks on social media were pretty harsh.” At the same time, she said, “doing the hard work has its risks and has its rewards.”

While Colorado is led by a Democratic governor and Democrats retain control of the state’s General Assembly, Titone said it took some work to convince even colleagues from her own party to buy into the rationale for grouping reproductive and trans healthcare rights together in her bill. 

Additionally, Titone said, she was approached by healthcare providers in Colorado who administer gender affirming care and were concerned that her bill might inspire threats of violence like those made recently against clinicians and facilities in Massachusetts. 

“They said we’re nervous about this bill,” Titone said, but she told them, “Without this, your providers are going to get sued.” Plus, she said, the anti-trans extremists “are going to find you eventually,” so let’s “rip the Band-Aid off and just do it.” 

Titone’s bill was signed into law last month. She expressed gratitude for the coalition of people who made the law’s passage possible, including Jack Teter, a trans man who had a major hand in drafting the language on gender affirming care. As it happens, he works for Planned Parenthood. 

The White House held two State Legislative Convenings – one with Democratic lawmakers in red states and the other, which Titone attended on Thursday, with Democratic lawmakers in blue states. 

With these events, Titone said the Biden-Harris administration, which “has a strong position on reproductive rights,” sought to provide a forum for the exchange of information on what the former group of legislators need to pass legislation protecting reproductive rights and what the latter group has done on this front that could be instructive or serve as a model. 

It is not as though state lawmakers are operating in silos without following what is happening in other states’ legislative bodies, Titone said, but nevertheless the convening was helpful because “we don’t often have the time to reach out to those legislators personally, or have an opportunity to see them, to talk to them, unless there’s a conference and we both happen to be there at the same time.”

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