LGBTQ young adults seek hope while grieving at Club Q in Colorado Springs

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COLORADO SPRINGS – Luis Padillo had wanted to visit Club Q for months. Sometimes he drove around the neighborhood trying to muster up the courage to come inside.

“I didn’t have anyone to go with me,” said Padillo, 21, who recently came out to his parents and questioned his sexuality. “I just wasn’t comfortable going alone.”

But two days after a gunman stormed Club Q, killing five and wound up 18, Padillo finally stopped by to reflect on – and grieve with – Colorado’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.

“I wanted to see the memorial,” Padillo said, standing in front of a collection of flowers, candles and rainbow flags. “This is a wake-up call and a cry for change, and while it’s certainly sad, it’s also inspiring.”

As the nation mourns three mass shootings for the past two weeks, makeshift memorials have served as reminders of the nation’s relentless gun violence. But the tribute here has taken on a deeper meaning—it has become a space for LGBTQ teens and young adults to grieve, honor their community, and ask, “What now?”

For LGBTQ community, Colorado Springs shooting meant ‘safety betrayed’

Some drove to Colorado Springs from as far away as Boulder, about 90 minutes north, just to stand in front of the memorial for a few minutes. Others came with their parents, reflects a generational change against adults having to support their LGBTQ children. A few have stopped by several times over several days and say they can’t explain why they keep coming back.

“I’m trans and queer myself,” said a 15-year-old, who asked to be identified by their first name, Eliot, as he viewed the memorial with their 61-year-old grandmother. “As a high school kid, it scares me that this could happen based on someone’s identity. … But being here helps.”

It was not lost on many young visitors that they were standing in front of a bar where they could not even legally drink. Still, many said they know what Club Q represents in this conservative community.

As soon as he heard about the shooting, Wyatt Krob, 20, knew he had to travel here from Denver, about an hour north. In January, after months of “putting all the pieces together,” Krob told his parents he was bisexual. He had planned to visit his father, “but I couldn’t wait for him to get off work,” he said.

Instead, Krob came alone. “I don’t quite get it,” he said. “I just felt called to go and experience it for myself.”

Krob, who attends Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., said the memorial’s combination of pain, anguish and “love” helped him better understand that places like Club Q “are sacred places” for the LGBTQ community.

It also allowed him to dig deeper for information about himself. “I wanted to come here, find other people who are grieving and maybe also have a better understanding of myself,” he said. “I would say that for anyone who questions or identifies as anything other than straight, this definitely hits home in their soul.”

A few feet away stood Amber Cantorna wearing a sweatshirt that read “Free Mom Hugs.” Free Mom Hugs is a nationwide group of women whose members travel to LGBTQ-focused events to support youth.

Cantorna, 38, said the sight of so many young people demonstrated how quickly younger adults — and many of their parents — have become more aware of and supportive of issues involving sexual orientation and identity.

“You wouldn’t have seen this when I was growing up in Colorado Springs or when I left a decade ago,” Cantorna said.

Still, in a part of the country where it can take an hour to travel between isolated mountain and farming communities, she knows that many young adults still lack a supportive network.

Cantorna said she became suicidal and fled to Denver after her family ostracized her and even took her set of keys to their house when she told them she was gay in 2012. At the time, Cantorna’s father worked as a senior official at Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based Christian conservative advocacy group.

She moved back to Colorado Springs last year but remains out of touch with her family.

Even in tragedy, Cantorna said, the Club Q memorial will become a place that helps members of the LGBTQ community feel less alone.

“A lot of queer people still live pretty rural, isolated lives where they don’t have a community to support them,” she said. “These are people who may not have a family or may not have a place to go on vacation this week.”

Barbara Poma, who owned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where a gunman killed 49 people in 2016said she’s not surprised so many younger Colorado Springs residents are choosing to mourn publicly at Club Q. The memorial in front of Pulse still draws hundreds of people a day to the shuttered venue.

“It amazes me to see the families and the young people there, but it happens every day,” said Pomo, whose onePULSE Foundation is building a permanent monument to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub. “We have families that come to Orlando on vacation, but they still want to bring their kids to visit the memorial. … It’s a place of pilgrimage and a place to bear witness and where people can face grief and have good conversations.”

‘I hope people come here’

The number of younger Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than ever before. Gallup found that in February 7 percent of Americans now identify that wayincluding 21 percent of American adults born between 1997 and 2003.

Speaking outside Club Q this week, several parents of gay or transgender children said they saw a family visit to the memorial as a way to show their children that more people love them than hate them or want to hurt them.

On Wednesday morning, Layla Aronow brought her 12-year-old transgender son Kai to the memorial from their suburban Denver home. They placed flowers at the crosses in honor of the victims, while Kai chalked the pavement with messages including “We don’t choose who we love – we choose who we hurt.”

“When this happened, especially so close to the holidays, it just broke my heart,” said Aronow, 42. “It was important to me, especially with a trans kid, to bring him here and show him that to every monster that might come . . there are hundreds or thousands of others who are trying to do good.”

When Aronow and Kai took pictures of the candles and chalk writing now located along North Academy Boulevard, they got a first-hand lesson in how a community can help fight cruelty. A passenger in an SUV driving by the memorial rolled down the window and shouted an anti-gay slur at the crowd of mourners.

“That person clearly thinks that word is going to hurt us, and wants the power to hurt us,” Kai replied. “And it just doesn’t hurt us when we’re together.”

Aronow swelled with pride.

“That’s exactly what I want my son to say and believe,” she said.

Robin L., another transgender man who visited the memorial with his mother, said the collective grief in front of Club Q had inspired him, even though he had never been inside.

Robin — who is 21 and asked to be identified only by the first initial of his last name because he worries about online harassment — said seeing so many other young LGBTQ people stand together this week proved that they “ living the dreams of their ancestors.”

“I hope people come here and they see that even though this is horrible, there are people everywhere who love them,” Robin said. “We will be here for each other, despite the fear.”

The memorial also attracted a steady stream of heterosexual teenagers and young adults. Many of them also believe that the memorial symbolizes how solidarity can arise from community grief.

Ayden Derby, who is straight and a senior at a local high school, said it’s still common for some LGBTQ students to be bullied or harassed. But when Derby, 18, looked at the memorial, he vowed to be a lifelong ally of the LGBTQ community.

“Things like this speak to people and definitely make them rethink the actions and words they say,” said Derby, who watched as his 17-year-old friend scrawled “You’re wonderful” on a concrete barrier that separates the memorial from the highway. Traffic.

But despite the support, Robin’s mother Kathy L. still worries that the nightclub shooting represents a new, more dangerous time for Robin and other LGBTQ Americans. Especially outside the country’s largest cities, “it’s getting worse for gay people because it’s gotten better for gay people,” she said.

“Gay people have a few rights now, and sometimes you might see a same-sex couple walking downtown where you never would have 20 years ago,” said Kathy, who made several visits to the memorial this week to supply origami paper for. make butterflies. “So someone who is hateful and afraid sees that and then they decide to commit a hate crime.”

Ash Lowrance, a 23-year-old transgender man, echoed those concerns when they visited the memorial with their partner Alexis Mullins, who is 26 and identifies as queer.

Lowrance and Mullins moved to Colorado Springs two years ago from their conservative hometown in rural Illinois. Lowrance, who started testosterone treatment about six months ago, said the attack on Club Q has left them wondering if they should continue with their transition.

“It scares me a little bit. I’m very early in my transition and just knowing that this happened is really hard to process,” Lowrance said. “A lot of young people come here because they realize how messed up everything is this is.”

Padillo, the 21-year-old who told his parents he will decide his sexual orientation when he falls in love, said he also remains “scared” even as he found comfort in the memorial. He believes the shooting will make it even more difficult for some young men to take their first steps into a gay bar.

“This just makes it seem like you’re not wanted somewhere, and that can be scary for a lot of people,” said Padillo, who added that he’s thankful he has a supportive family.

But after Krob spent about 30 minutes staring quietly at the memorial, the 20-year-old left feeling good. He knew exactly what he wanted to do when he got back to Denver.

“I’m going to go home and give my mom a big hug,” he said. “I didn’t take any pictures here to show her, but what I saw will definitely stick with me and it’s going to be in my head for a long time.”

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