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Club Q massacre survivors testify before Congress

Hearing focused on rise of anti-LGBTQ extremism, violence

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Club Q bartender Michael Anderson testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Dec. 14, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two survivors of the Club Q massacre on Wednesday testified during a House Oversight Committee hearing that focused on the rise of anti-LGBTQ 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.19th, 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 LGBTQ 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-LGBTQ 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-LGBTQ 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 – 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 courage to subdue the wonderful killer. I hope more shootings happen again. Have a blessed day.”

“The shooter was doing God’s work, five less 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 must 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 is 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.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Dec. 14. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis, National Center for Transgender Equality Policy Director Olivia Hunt, Ilan Meyer of the Williams Institute, Charles Fain Lehman of the Manhattan Institute and Equality Florida Communications Director Brandon Wolf also testified.

Wolf in 2016 survived the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 people dead and 53 others injured.

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Congress

Garcia slams effort to ban drag shows as GOP passes NDAA with anti-LGBTQ riders

Equality Caucus denounces anti-LGBTQ amendments

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U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) during the debate on Thursday over the National Defense Authorization Act (Screen capture via C-Span)

U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) slammed Republican U.S. Rep. Josh Brecheen’s (Okla.) effort to ban drag shows on American military bases during a debate over the annual National Defense Authorization Act spending bill on Thursday.

The appropriations package, which contains five anti-LGBTQ riders pushed by House GOP members, was passed on Friday.

“We know there are a lot of threats to the health and well-being of our service members and their families: poisoned water, toxic mold in military housing, PTSD, and suicide,” said Garcia, who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.

“So I’m stunned to see that the Republican idea to protect our troops is to ban drag shows,” he said. “Mr. Speaker, my Republican colleagues want us to believe that ‘these gays are trying to murder us.’ They want us to believe that drag is harmful, or immoral and wrong. This is ridiculous.”

“We can document and celebrate drag shows on military bases since the late 1800s, and through both world wars,” Garcia continued. “The USO and the Red Cross supported drag during World War II. That’s right: the Army that defeated Hitler and saved the world included drag queens.” 

“Ronald Regan starred in a movie called ‘This Is the Army!’ — a movie about World War II that featured four drag performances,” he said. “And he’s not the only Republican president who knew that drag can be fun and sometimes silly.”

Garcia displayed a photo of former president and presumptive 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was dressed in drag.

“Mr. Speaker,” the congressman said, “drag is Art. Drag is Culture. Drag is Creativity. Drag is Comedy. And no, drag is Not a Crime. It’s not pornography. The real obscenity is when one of our colleagues, the gentlewoman from Georgia, shows literal posters of revenge porn in our Oversight Committee! If we want to end porn in government facilities, let’s ban that.”

In a statement on Friday, the Equality Caucus called out House Republicans’ politicization of the military appropriations bill.

“Like last year, House Republicans voted to add poison pill, anti-LGBTQI+ provisions to the NDAA that discriminate against our LGTBQI+ servicemembers and their families,” said Caucus Chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) “The Equality Caucus remains committed to preventing these discriminatory provisions from becoming law.”

Along with Brecheen’s drag show ban, the caucus highlighted four of these riders from this year’s NDAA:

  • Amendment 46 by U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.), which would “prohibit funds for the Department of Defense Education Activity from being used to purchase, maintain, or display in a school library or classroom books that include transgender and intersex characters or touch on topics related to gender identity or variations in sex characteristics,”
  • Amendment 49 by U.S. Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.), which would “ban Pride flags from any workplace, common access area, or public area of the Department of Defense,” and
  • Amendments 52 and 53 by U.S. Reps. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.), which would, respectively, “ban TRICARE from covering and furnishing gender-affirming surgeries and hormone treatments,” and “prohibit the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) from covering or providing referrals for “gender transition procedures”—including puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgeries—for servicemembers’ dependent minor children.”
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Congress

Merkley, joined by Advocates for Trans Equality, makes Equality Act push

Ore. senator said ‘our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year’

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks at the Senate Swamp on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for passage of the Equality Act during a press conference on Wednesday alongside Advocates for Trans Equality, who were convened on Capitol Hill for the Trans Day of Empowerment lobby day.

Instead of freedom and the opportunity to participate fully in society, the senator said, “We see hatred, we see harassment, we see homelessness, we see discrimination, and bigotry, and violence, we see unemployment, we even see state-sanctioned attempts to outlaw the very identity of our transgender members of our community.”

“Across America in 2024, in our state legislatures there have been 500 bills drafted to constrain the opportunity for transgender Americans,” Merkley said. “They take on school curriculum, or they ban gender affirming care or otherwise seek to constrain the opportunity to participate in society, by our transgender individuals, in so many different ways.”

“This is wrong,” he said. “This is unacceptable. And we need to therefore pass the Equality Act here in the halls of Congress.”

Merkley, who introduced the latest iteration of the bill in the Senate, noted the legislation would “end discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, in housing, in public accommodations, in mortgages, in financial transactions, in jury duty — every facet of American society.”

U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is gay and a co-chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, is leading the House version of the bill.

However, Merkley said, “our partners on the right side of the aisle have abandoned us. So, the responsibility to pass the Equality Act falls firmly on the Democratic Party.”

The senator called for an end to the Senate filibuster as a means of passing important legislation like the Equality Act.

Separately, in a statement to the Washington Blade, Merkley said, “Voting is the heart of our democracy. As Americans cast their ballots this fall, they have the chance to decide major issues facing our nation — from LGBTQ+ rights to reproductive freedom to so much more.”

“Democracy doesn’t exist unless every eligible voter has equal opportunity to make their voice heard,” he said. “As attacks on our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors continue in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and in our communities, we must all speak out and vote against this rising hate.”

The senator added, “Our rights and freedoms are on the ballot this year, and I won’t stop fighting until every American can live safely and freely as their authentic self.”

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Equality Caucus, White House condemn anti-LGBTQ riders in spending bill

Biden has promised a veto

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U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Congressional Equality Caucus on Wednesday condemned House Republicans’ passage of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (“MilCon”) Appropriations Act, 2025, with anti-LGBTQ riders attached.

“Once again, Republicans are attacking the transgender and broader LGBTQI+ community with riders that both harm our LGBTQI+ veterans and undermine our military readiness by discouraging LGBTQI+ people from enlisting,” said caucus chair U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

“We strongly condemn this bill and its cruel attacks that target those who have served our nation in uniform,” the congressman said. “Our members remain committed to defending the LGBTQI+ community throughout the Fiscal Year 2025 appropriations process and beyond.”

The White House said on Monday that President Joe Biden would veto the House version of the MilCon bill, with opposition stemming in part from the anti-LGBTQ riders along with anti-abortion riders, which would reverse the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policy of covering abortions in cases of rape or incest. These provisions will almost certainly not be included in the Senate version of the appropriations package.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget issued a statement outlining the Biden-Harris administration’s position on the bill, writing: “H.R. 8580 includes numerous, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences, including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Two of the four anti-LGBTQ riders would prohibit the use of appropriated funds for “surgical procedures or hormone therapies for the purposes of gender affirming care” and the implementation, administration, application, or enforcement of three executive orders by Biden containing LGBTQ-inclusive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives:

A third would prohibit the flying of Pride flags over VA facilities and national cemeteries while a fourth would create a “license to discriminate” against LGBTQ people under the pretext of religious liberty.

For instance, the caucus writes, “it prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating a federal contract or grant with an organization that discriminates against LGBTQI+ people if the organization justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

Likewise, the rider “prohibits the federal government from reducing or terminating the employment of an employee who discriminates against LGBQI+ people if the employee justifies their discrimination based on the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

This means a benefits counselor could, without being penalized, refuse to process applications and changes for a veteran’s same-sex spouse, the caucus notes.

On X, the caucus pledged to defeat the anti-LGBTQ riders, noting “we were able to ensure these harmful riders were not included in last year’s final MilCon-VA bill.”

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