Colorado LGBTQ organizations still working through grief over last month’s mass shooting at Club Q are taking into account new security concerns raised by a recent federal terrorism bulletin as they look ahead to events such as next summer’s Denver Pride celebrations.
The Department of Homeland Security recently warned that the United States remains in “a heightened threat environment,” specifically mentioning that LGBTQ spaces are a potential target for terrorist attacks, along with public gatherings, faith-based institutions, schools, and racial and religious minorities.
DHS observed people on online forums “known to post racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist content” praising the Club Q shooter, the bulletin said. Domestic extremists in the U.S. also praised an October shooting at an LGBTQ bar in Slovakia and encouraged additional violence, according to the bulletin.
Those warnings and concern over the Colorado Springs shooting have prompted the Center on Colfax, the largest LGBTQ community center in the Rocky Mountain region, to begin discussing adjustments to safety plans for June’s Denver Pride event, which the center oversees.
“We have two areas of concern: our year-round community center here at Colfax and Lafayette, where we are always concerned about the day-to-day safety of that venue, but then we also have to look ahead to PrideFest, which is a really huge public event and is probably a bigger risk in a lot of areas from a safety perspective,” said Rex Fuller, the Center on Colfax’s CEO.
The Center on Colfax already has security measures in place, Fuller said. While the Club Q shooting and the DHS memo are stark reminders of the threats that exist, Fuller said LGBTQ spaces have always had to be vigilant and prepared for security concerns.
For Fuller, the Club Q shooting brought to the fore the ever-present fear of gun violence.
“So many people talk about Club Q as a safe space, and I think it was a safe space, but it was safe emotionally,” Fuller said. “It was where somebody felt they could go be themselves and be open with their friends, but just about any place you go these days, you are at risk for gun violence. It could be Club Q, the grocery store, the movie theater, your high school — all of those are very high-profile shootings in the Denver metro. The constant litany about gun violence all the time feels harder and harder to deal with.”
Partnerships with other community organizations and local law enforcement help ease Fuller’s concerns.
The Center on Colfax is a member of the Hate Free Colorado coalition, a group of 18 civil rights, advocacy and law enforcement organizations that work together to discuss and counter hate crimes.
Even though the attack on Club Q took place more than 70 miles to the south, Fuller said local law enforcement was quick to check in with the center after the Nov. 19 shooting and make sure the space was OK.
“We can’t allow this to force us back in the closet,” Fuller said. “As individuals, we all have a right to be who we are despite how difficult it may seem or how potentially frightening some of this is. Of course, we find ways to keep ourselves safe wherever we can.”
R.P. Whitmore-Bard is the program director at Denver nonprofit Queer Asterisk, which provides counseling services, educational training and therapeutic programs centering queer and trans experiences. They’ve noticed LGBTQ community members trying to weigh seeking connection during this turbulent time with safety concerns about gathering in public.
“We’re in this place of balancing the very real need for talking about and thinking about physical safety with what we know about trauma and how symptoms of trauma can manifest and be triggered when this happens,” Whitmore-Bard said.
Queer Asterisk largely focuses on virtual LGBTQ mental health, so in-person events are less of an issue. However, cybersecurity is a top concern, they said.
“We have members of our team and community who have been in a Zoom room and someone got in and started spewing hate speech so it’s kind of happening on all fronts,” Whitmore-Bard said.
Because Queer Asterisk is guided by queer and transgender leadership, Whitmore-Bard said the organization is focused on helping staff with their mental health concerns in light of the Club Q shooting. The organization is providing support groups for their employees and offering support and mental health resources to other LGBTQ-focused organizations that are trying to do their jobs amid their own grief.
Guy Rivers, a member of the community group Denver Black Queer Collective, said he didn’t know what to do with the DHS terrorism warning.
LGBTQ spaces have long been a target for violence or harassment, Rivers said. The Denver Black Queer Collective must always keep safety in mind when gathering for social events and community-building, Rivers said.
“I would like to see a statement from the Department of Homeland Security with the steps they’re taking to ensure the safety of targeted and marginalized communities,” Rivers said. “You can’t really organize your way out of being targeted or marginalized… We would definitely want to see our local, state and federal representatives propose legislation that will better protect all of the targeted communities listed in the DHS warning. In the meantime, we are loving each other through a terrorist attack.”
Whitmore-Bard, Rivers and Fuller said they wanted the LGBTQ community in Colorado to know they are not alone and that spaces to be together and places to seek help if needed are still here.
“The scary part of our work is sometimes it can feel like there are some personal risks, but a big part of our work is being out and being visible,” Fuller said.