On Saturday, November 19th, a gunman attacked Club Q, a prominent LGBT+ club in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring 25. The Center for Disability Rights joins the LGBTQIA+ Community in mourning the dead and comforting those who experienced the assault.
The impact of the attack is profound in ways that people outside the LGBTQIA+ community may not understand. The shooting at Club Q attacked a hub of the LGBTQIA+ community which has relied on LGBT+ centers, bars, and clubs as safe spaces where for people have the freedom to be themselves and the community to gather. This was not just an attack on a neighborhood bar or the city where it is located, it was an attack against the entire LGBTQIA+ community.
Such spaces were developed in direct response to the very real fears of harassment, assault, arrest, incarceration, and death. These establishments have provided a place for the LGBTQ+ community to gather and support each other. It was not an accident of history that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights was sparked in such a setting when in response to police harassment in NYC, the LGBTQ+ community fought back during “Stonewall Riots” of 1969.
However, because the LGBTQIA+ community has been under constant attack, in creating those safe spaces, barriers have been established that tended to exclude people with disabilities. Out of necessity, locations were often difficult to find, dark or dimly lit, and up or down a set of stairs. Even today, it isn’t uncommon for clubs to be spaces difficult for people with disabilities to navigate.
In the context of shootings like Club Q and Pulse, such barriers put Queer Disabled people at particular risk. As a Queer Disabled woman who uses a wheelchair for mobility, it is difficult not to think about what would happen to me or other Queer Disabled people in such circumstances. If a Deaf person, a Blind person, or, someone who uses mobility equipment had been at Pulse or Club Q or any other LGBTQ+ space that experienced violence, they likely would not have been able to escape in the same way as everyone else.
But there are other impacts that these shootings can have. As club owners and the LGBTQIA+ Community consider ways to protect themselves from future attacks, it seems likely that even more barriers will be put in place that could further restrict access for people with disabilities. The only way to avoid that is making deliberate efforts to consider accessibility when making such plans.
CDR understands – first-hand – how difficult it is to balance the need for access with the need for safety and security. A couple years ago, CDR was subject to a credible threat of violence. In responding to that threat, we recognized that in making our building welcoming and accessible, we had limited ways to protect ourselves from violence. In the face of that credible threat we recognized how people with significant disabilities were at most risk, so we worked with our security company to develop unique approaches to protect all of us. This was not an easy task.
The LGBTQIA+ and Disability Communities need to recognize that these shootings have a significant impact on Queer Disabled people, many of whom have personally experienced violence and will find themselves retraumatized by this round of hateful violence. Even Queer Disabled folks who have not experienced violence themselves are impacted. Frankly, I’m not the only Queer Disabled person worried about what would happen to me in the event of targeted violence. Consequently, these attacks will have a chilling effect on Disabled Queer people who already struggle with participation in the LGBTQ+ community and accessing queer spaces and such spaces will feel less “safe”. It is incumbent on both Disability and LGBTQIA+ organizations to recognize the impact that the Club Q shooting has had and to be inclusive in the efforts in response to such attacks.
Finally, our hearts ache for and with those in the LGBTQIA+ Community. We cry with you in mourning our dead.