In the most trying of times, when an armed raider waged war on its patrons, Club Q remained what its customers had long cherished, and what exotic bars have been ubiquitous for generations: a source of kindness and community, where people look out for each other.
After Ed Sanders was shot in the back and leg, he fell to the ground by the bar, next to a woman he did not know.
In an interview from his bed at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs, he said Sanders, 63, covered her with his coat in an effort to protect her from any attack that might come next.
Once others in the crowd had brought down the shooter, he said, more patrons rushed to help the wounded.
“There were a lot of people helping each other. People who didn’t get hitched were helping,” said Sanders, who has been going to the club since its opening night two decades ago. “Just as a family does.”
Amid stories of heartbreak and devastation from Saturday night’s shooting, which left five people dead and 18 injured, there are tales of heroism, selflessness, and deep compassion—based in large part on the special kinship shared by gay people and their allies.
Beyond the pain, an outpouring of love arose for Club Q and the people who made it what it is: a “safe space” to unleash fun and frolic for generations of gay people in an otherwise conservative city.
Nizami said it is a legacy that should not be forgotten or ignored — particularly in an era of political attacks on LGBTQ institutions.
Club Q was scheduled to host an “all ages” brunch on Sunday. Such events have become a focus in the culture wars of American politics, with critics on the right suggesting they expose children to sexual performers, and advocates on the left dismissing these arguments as baseless and reflecting misleading stereotypes about LGBT people.
To understand what has been lost, according to the old patrons, one must see Club Q not as a threat but as a sanctuary. They say it’s more than just a bar or nightclub – it’s a community hub.
“It was a home for a lot of us,” said Victoria Kosovich, 34, a transgender woman who lives in a rural community outside Colorado Springs and has been performing at Club Q as a drag queen.
“In conservative cities like Springs, many of us were kept out of birth families because we couldn’t keep lying to ourselves and those we cared about. When that happens, places like Q give us a place to find a new family that we choose in turn, and who in turn chooses us.”
The day after the shooting, mourners turned up outside the venue to honor the dead and injured and Club Q itself, lest the world misunderstand the scope of their grief.
“Here we don’t just give people respect; we appreciate the club,” said Seneca Mosley, 34, who was there with his wife Jennifer Pena Mosley, 23.
“There was so much laughter and love here,” said Sophie Aldinger, 23, who is non-binary. “It is not right for such an ugly thing to happen here.”
Sophie Björk-James, assistant professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, has studied hate crimes, anti-LGBTQ prejudice, far-right ideologies, and religious ideologies that helped drive them. In the face of so much recent rhetoric that “somehow threatens the gay community,” she said, it’s important to note that bars like Club Q are quite the opposite: “incredibly welcoming places” that offer safety.
“This picture of what this society is like is just the polar opposite of what’s really going on,” said Bjork-James. Gay clubs are not these
Dens of pleasure of people who get drunk and dance. They are spaces that create community for people who have been rejected – many by their families, many by their churches.”
For nearly 50 years, members of the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs have been raising money for local charities through a club called the United Court of the Pikes Peak Empire — part of a broader charitable organization that has clubs from Canada to Mexico.
They raise money through raffle shows, bingo nights, and other events. They give everything to organizations that provide safe spaces for LGBTQ teens, fight cancer and support other causes.
Joseph Chilton, 26, chair of the group’s board of advisors, said Club Q is “nine times out of 10” where the group hosts events.
“It’s our go-to place for just about everything,” he said. “They have remained strong in the belief that every gay person, no matter who they are – and their allies – have a place to go, have fun, be safe, and live their lives authentically.”
Shelton and Sanders, who is a member of the organization, spent part of Saturday at an event hosted by their group’s sister group in Denver.
That night, Chilton drops his friend off at Club Q, and pops in briefly before heading home.
He hadn’t been home for 10 minutes when the “empress” of the group, Hysteria Brooks, called to say there was a shooting. Soon after, Chilton’s cousin called, saying that one of her friends had been shot in the bar.
Chilton hopped in his car and drove back to the club. Police cars and ambulances were circling nearby. They weren’t all for Club Q, he tried to tell himself.
In the days that followed, Shelton spoke to bar owners and local LGBTQ leaders about what would happen next. Should the club be reopened or turned into a memorial? Views differ – except for one issue.
We will not hide in a hole. “We’re not going back to the closet,” Shelton said. “We will come out of this stronger, we will come out of this stronger, we will come out of this wiser.”
James Slough is another regular at Club Q. He and his friend, Jancarlos Dell Valle, both 34, met there about eight months ago. They came for karaoke, drag shows or just to hang out with the regular staff and other staff – who were always “super nice”.
“We knew the owners. We knew drag queens. “We knew people who called us by our name, who knew our commands,” Slough said. “Club Q has been a safe place for me to learn about who I am and understand my sexuality.”
On Saturday, the couple decided to cheer up his sister, Charlene Slough, 35, who recently split from her girlfriend. The three of them headed to the club.
After a night of dancing, they were preparing to leave when a shooter walked in.
Charlene was shot several times, including through the abdomen. Her left lung has collapsed. The family said she lost half the blood in her body before she reached the operating table and is facing a difficult recovery.
Del Valle was shot in the leg. Slough said he was shot in the arm from behind, shattering a bone.
After the shooting stopped, he said, it was eerily silent, but the techno music still played. It was scary. He didn’t know if the shooter had left or if he was reloading.
Then, he heard someone—probably Richard Fierro, a U.S. Army veteran who helped take down the shooter—yelling for people to call the police, and others in the bar, who either hid or slumped to the floor, “got up and started helping people,” he said.
A stranger approached him, assessed his wound, told him it would be fine, and then kissed him on the forehead.
“For me, it made a huge difference,” Slough said Tuesday from his hospital bed. “Everyone who wasn’t injured did their thing. They were walking around checking on people. … This is just a testament to the love and connectedness we all feel.”