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San Diego LGBTQ community mourns after mass shooting at Colorado nightclub

San Diego’s LGBTQ community gathered in Hillcrest Monday night to mourn — and discuss safety and security — in response to the mass shooting at a Colorado gay nightclub over the weekend.

About 200 community members gathered for a town hall at Rich’s nightclub, then marched to the massive Hillcrest Pride flag, where they held a vigil to honor the victims of the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

The attack left five people dead just before midnight on Saturday. Seventeen others suffered gunshot wounds.

The shooting took place on the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance, an annual day that honors the lives lost to anti-trans violence. In 2021, at least 57 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed, marking the deadliest year on record, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group.

During the town hall, attendees hugged and cried as law enforcement officials showed their solidarity, denouncing the mass shootings and saying they will do whatever they can to ensure safety of the LGBTQ community.

“We just can’t tolerate this,” said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit, who called the Colorado shooting an act of hate.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan read the names of the victims.

“When these incidents happen they affect all of us, they affect everyone,” Stephan told the crowd, “so we’re here for you.”

Several members of the local LGBTQ community expressed their grief and outrage over the shooting. The attack was no surprise, given a recent flurry of nationwide anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation, they said.

Lawmakers have introduced more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills in 36 states in the past year, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“When you repeatedly dehumanize an entire population, it’s that much easier to discriminate against that population, and too often, as we’ve seen, it has disastrous consequences,” said Fernando Lopez, executive director of San Diego Pride, in an interview Monday afternoon.

Lopez said hateful rhetoric often increases during election cycles, with the LGBTQ community being used as a “political pawn” to “stir up fear” and boost voter turnout.

The motive for the shooting in Colorado remained unclear on Monday. The alleged gunman, Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, has been arrested on suspicion of murder and hate crimes, although he has yet to be formally charged.

The shooting in Colorado has created a sense of exhaustion within the LGBTQ community. “We’re tired of waiting” for action to address hate against the LGBTQ community, Lopez said.

“We need our allies to stand up and put an end to this,” Lopez added. “The responsibility does not lie with the LGBTQ community to end the violence against us.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, right, and a number of local leaders spoke Monday at a town hall meeting in Hillcrest in response to the Club Q shooting. (KC Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

(KC Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Ryan Bedrosian, the owner of Rich’s nightclub, said the shooting in Colorado represented an attack not only on the LGBTQ community, but “a place that is our safe place.”

It wasn’t the first mass shooting at a gay club: In 2016, a gunman killed 49 people at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. It is the second deadliest mass shooting in US history.

“Since the Pulse shooting, not a day goes by that I don’t think this could happen here or somewhere nearby,” Bedrosian said in an interview.

He said security personnel on Rich’s staff make sure emergency exits are unobstructed and well-lit and that he keeps evacuation plans handy.

But, he said, efforts to stop the next shooting must start with actions outside nightclubs. He said he believes several factors contribute to attacks like the Colorado shooting, such as loopholes in gun laws and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including hateful opposition to family drag performances.

“You put all of these things together and it’s not a good recipe,” Bedrosian said.

At Rich’s town hall, Mayor Todd Gloria said Hillcrest helped him find a supportive community as a young gay man.

He assumed the Colorado shooter knew that places like bars provide the LGBTQ community with a sense of togetherness and safety.

“I recognize that the travesty that happened in Colorado Springs didn’t happen in San Diego,” Gloria said, “but we’re connected as one LGBTQ community. And when you go up against one of us, you face us all.

Nisleit said the community can expect more police at Hillcrest in response to the mass shooting. He, Gloria and others asked the public to report any suspicious activity.

After the town hall, the crowd spilled onto University Avenue. They held candles and walked towards the Hillcrest Pride flag.

“Seeing this is just moving because you can see how many people support us and how many people care,” said Jhosue Valencia, 25. “It’s not like you feel alone.”

Stephen Wood, 28, called on law enforcement to be transparent about hate crime statistics.

“It’s important to know those numbers, to know how safe we ​​are in our community,” Wood said. “How are we supposed to judge whether law enforcement and our elected officials are doing enough, if we don’t have the information to hold them accountable?”

At the Rainbow Flag, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus sang “We Are a Gentle, Angry People” by Holly Near. The crowd then nodded for a moment of silence.

California Daily Newspapers

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