- Leslie HerodColorado state representative for the 8th District and candidate for mayor of Denver.
A gunman wearing body armor and armed with an AR-15-style rifle attacked an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs late Saturday night, killing five people and injuring at least 25. Two Club Q patrons managed to disarm the shooter, a 22-year-old suspect with ties to an extremist family, before he was taken into police custody. The attack came on the the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, and police are investigating the attack as a potential hate crime. “This was an intentional act to push LGBTQ people back into the shadows,” says Denver mayoral candidate Leslie Herod, who is the first LGBTQ+ African American to hold office in the Colorado General Assembly and considers Colorado Springs her hometown. Herod describes a “clear connection” between hateful anti-gay rhetoric and violence toward the LGBTQ community.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Cairo, Egypt, but going now to Colorado, where a gunman wearing body armor and armed with an AR-15-style rifle shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs just before midnight on Saturday. At least 25 people were injured. [Police] are investigating the shooting at Club Q as a potential hate crime. Three victims have been identified: Kelly Loving, a trans woman visiting from Denver, and Club Q workers Derrick Rump and Daniel Davis Aston, a trans man. The shooting occurred on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.
This is Joshua Thurman, a survivor of the Saturday night massacre.
JOSHUA THURMAN: As I was dancing on the dance floor, I heard shots fired. I thought it was the music, because there were no screams. There was no “Help! Help!” nothing like that. Then there were more shots. When I realized what was going on, I ran to the dressing room immediately. There was a customer that followed me. And there was a drag performer, Delusional, who was in the dressing room. I made them lock the doors, and we got down on the ground and cut off the lights immediately.
DAN BEEDIE: Joshua, what does this mean for the LGBTQ community here in Colorado Springs, the shooting?
JOSHUA THURMAN: It’s hard to say. It means so much, because this is our only safe space here in the Springs. And so, for this to get shot up, like, what are we going to do now? Where are we going to go? Yeah, we can rebuild and come together and this, but what about those people that lost their lives for no reason, like the 18 — other 18 that were injured? I could have been one of them. Like, it means a lot, because, again, what we are going to do now? How are we going to feel safe in our city?
DAN BEEDIE: This was your safe space?
JOSHUA THURMAN: Yeah, this was the only LGBTQIA+ space in the entire city of Colorado Springs. It’s won awards in the Independent magazine. I got my start here. Like, so many of my friends, I met here, and people that I call loved ones. And now it’s shattered.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Joshua Thurman speaking to KRDO. Police in Colorado Springs have taken a 22-year-old suspect named Anderson Lee Aldrich into custody. Police say at least one patron of the club confronted the gunman to stop the shooting. The suspected gunman was arrested last year on charges of felony menacing and kidnapping after threatening his mother with a homemade bomb. The gunman is the grandson of California Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel.
We go now to Denver, where we’re joined by Colorado state Representative Leslie Herod. She is the first LGBTQ+ African American to hold office in the Colorado General Assembly. She attended high school in Colorado Springs. She’s now running to be mayor of Denver. She tweeted Sunday, “Waking up to news about another mass shooting — this time in my hometown of Colorado Springs. Club Q is a place of refuge for so many, including myself. I am both devastated and infuriated.” That’s the words of state Representative Leslie Herod, who’s joining us now.
Thank you so much. Our condolences to you, to the whole community in Colorado Springs and Colorado, the United States, actually, and around the world. Can you talk about what you now understand is the latest of what happened, the effects on the community in Colorado Springs, and what you want to happen now?
REP. LESLIE HEROD: Yeah. Well, first, thank you for having me this morning. And I’m sad that it’s under these circumstances.
I just left the vigil in Colorado Springs yesterday. And what I know is I know Club Q to be that place of refuge, to be that place of solace and connection for so many people that feel unconnected.
But what I want folks to know and understand is that Colorado Springs is not a place of hate. It’s a place of love. And I saw so much love, an outpouring of support, yesterday when I was down in the Springs with the survivors, you know, with the victims. And folks wanted to people to know that. I was speaking to a young man who lost his partner in the shooting. And, you know, while he was completely shaken and completely devastated, he came out for that embrace. He came out for that support. And he got it. And he got it. And I think it’s important that we realize that.
But right now we’re talking about what happened that night. We know that there were two patrons, at least, that subdued the gunman. If they hadn’t have jumped in and risked their lives to save others, the tragedy would have been more widespread. We know that more folks would have died if they didn’t take quick action. They are heroes. They are angels. And we need to lift them up.
But I’m reminded that these are folks who are shamed just for who they are, who they love and how they present. They are shamed by elected officials. They are shamed by community leaders. And just recently here in Colorado, we had a very large nonprofit organization tell people who work there to hide who they are, to not act on their gay urges, if they wanted to stay working in that location. That’s the stuff that we’re up against every single day. That’s the stuff and the rhetoric that LGBTQ+ people are up against every single day, and it’s got to stop.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, this news that if this is the person who did it, he is the grandson of the California legislator, Voepel, who described the January 6th insurrection as the Lexington and Concord event. If you can talk more about what this community of violence is also about and how it must be confronted, as you describe people gathering around those that are suffering right now?
REP. LESLIE HEROD: Yeah. It’s clear why this person did this — right?— why he went into an LGBTQ club and sprayed bullets, you know, mass destruction on people. It’s because of the hate — right? — that we hear in the rhetoric every single day. And knowing that he is connected to an extremist family is something that I think we all must take note of. But make no mistake: Anyone who turns on their Twitter feed or their social media feed every single day can see this hate. In fact, just yesterday, I was targeted by an organization online simply for supporting trans youth — simply for supporting transgender youth and their families. And I refuse to stop. The hate will not make us go back into the shadows. The hate will not make us be ashamed for supporting those in our communities that need love and support.
But make no mistake: There’s a clear path and a clear connection between the hateful rhetoric that we hear from people and what we see today. I mean, when we lift up folks like Kyle Rittenhouse — right? — and across the country people are praising him for murdering protesters — murdering protesters — you know, it’s no surprise that we have more folks that want to go down in history for harming and killing people that have been dehumanized simply for who they love or what we stand up for. And it’s wrong. It’s got to stop. I don’t care if you’re Democrat, Republican or independent. We all have to stand up together and say this rhetoric has to stop. This using people as political fodder in our games has to stop, because it’s killing people.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the Colorado governor, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be governor, elected and then reelected, addressed the memorial service yesterday. He also — Colorado is the 11th state to block the use of the controversial defense strategy called the “gay panic” defense. As a Colorado state legislator, Leslie Herod, can you talk about the battle for LGBTQ rights and what’s next on the agenda for Colorado?
REP. LESLIE HEROD: Absolutely. During the pandemic, I was a co-sponsor of the bill that ended the gay panic defense, meaning, you know, “Oh, I killed them or I harmed them or I beat them because I found out that they were gay, and I went into a panic.” That was a legal defense on the books here Colorado, and it’s a legal defense on the books in many states across this country. And it’s wrong. It’s wrong, because just because someone is gay or transgender doesn’t mean that they should be targeted for hate, and then let off the hook, you know?
And so, this battle for LGBTQ equality has been a long-fought one in Colorado. We started with Amendment 2 as the hate state, known as the hate state because we said it was legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Since then, we have made a complete turnaround — right? — where we passed legislation affirming marriage, where we passed benefits for LGBTQ couples, families and in adoption, and now we have a gay governor. You know, we’re leading the way. LGBTQ people are leading the way here in Colorado.
But that’s not without backlash, right? That’s not without folks coming continuously and bringing legislation that’s harmful to LGBT communities, saying it is OK to discriminate, saying it’s OK to harm people, you know, saying that it’s OK specifically to target and bully LGBTQ youth, and to say that if their families are supporting them and are gender affirming, you know, that they should be in jail. We see these types of bills in Colorado all the time. We see them across the country. And, in fact, there has been an increase.
And so, folks who think that we’re just going to age our way out of homophobia and transphobia, they’re wrong. This is being bred into our youngest people. This is being echoed in the highest halls of power in our country, saying that we should discriminate, saying that folks should be dehumanized, dehumanized simply for who they are. That’s what’s breeding this hate.
And I’ve got to tell you, I am still infuriated. You know, I woke up yesterday infuriated. I’m still infuriated today. And I know Colorado has much more work to do. And it starts by protecting our transgender community, because they are the ones that are under attack so much, so much right now. And people excuse it every single day.
AMY GOODMAN: The congressman from Colorado Springs, Republican Doug Lamborn, once pushed to defund PBS for airing an episode of the cartoon Arthur that featured a same-sex marriage.
REP. LESLIE HEROD: Yeah, I mean, exactly. And it’s interesting to see these, like, you know, posts of support, these statements of support and prayers for folks, when literally some of these people have been spewing the hate that made this a reality — right? — spewing the hate that made folks think it was OK to target an LGBTQ nightclub, you know?
And quite frankly, folks are forgetting about Pulse. Folks are forgetting about Matthew Shepard. And we can’t let that stop. And in fact — in fact, in our schools, they want to not teach about Matthew Shepard and his murder. They want to not teach about what happened at Pulse, you know? And they want to put people in the shadows, make folks hide, you know, and ignore what has truly happened to LGBTQ people across the country. We are being targeted. We are being attacked. And all we want to do is live our lives as freely and as openly as everyone else, you know?
I’m proud to serve as an LGBTQ elected official. But I’ve got to tell you, when we are not at the table, the rhetoric, the hate, it rises to the top. And we have a transgender legislator in the Colorado General Assembly, the first time ever. And the hate that she gets every single day by our colleagues and our members, you know, it’s infuriating.
And can you imagine, then, what our youngest people are going through? I support a group called Dragutante, and these are young people who are celebrating who they are. They are performing in drag. They are beautiful. They are glorious, you know? And right now they are being attacked. They are being attacked, and their parents are being attacked, simply for living their lives, you know? It’s wrong, and I don’t want to hear from elected officials —
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk more —
REP. LESLIE HEROD: Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk more about drag queen events that have faced online hate and protest, including one planned at Denver Botanic Garden in June during Pride Month that was canceled due to hateful comments and emails. Do you believe the hateful backlash might have contributed to the violence and depravity, what happened on Saturday night in Colorado Springs?
REP. LESLIE HEROD: Of course. Of course they’re related. Again, there is a straight line between those types of actions, those types of threats, literal threats, against people who are just going for story time or a drag queen celebration, you know, and a Transgender Day of Remembrance, right? Of course these are all related.
And because they go unanswered, because we don’t see any type of follow-up or prosecution, because we’re not holding people accountable — right? — then it just continues. Every day there’s a hate crime in Colorado and across this country that either is unreported or underreported, you know, because folks know — because folks know and have experienced the fact that their attack has been pushed to the side.
We’re still not even calling this a hate crime, what happened in Colorado Springs. And I don’t know why we have to wait before we call it that. This was an act of hate. This was an act of terror. This was an intentional act to push LGBTQ people back into the shadows, to make them feel unsafe in one of the few places where we actually do feel safe and love and supported. It’s wrong.
And so, as I listened to the intro before this program, I sympathize with the patron who talked about how — you know, how can we feel safe again in this place? It’s going to be hard. But I encourage us all to go back out. I encourage us all to be ourselves, to be out and to be proud of who we are and to say we’re not going away just because of this hate. But we need allies. We need our champions to step up and say something, too. We cannot let this go unanswered.
AMY GOODMAN: And let’s not forget that if in fact this person is the same one who threatened his mother with a bomb, so often these mass shootings are linked to violence against women that occurred before. Leslie Herod, I want to thank you so much for being with us. She is running for mayor of Denver. She is currently a Colorado state representative for the 8th District, the first LGBTQ+ African American to hold office in the Colorado General Assembly, attended high school in Colorado Springs, calls it her hometown. We thank you so much for being there.
Next up, we’re going to the World Cup, which is beginning in the country of Qatar. We’ll speak to Human Rights Watch about Qatar’s labor and human rights record. Stay with us.