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Club Q was a haven for the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Club Q, the Colorado Springs nightclub where five people were killed by a gunman last weekend, has been described as a safe space for queer people in a city that can feel unwelcoming for those who are LGBTQ+. Writer and podcaster Noel Black grew up in the city's gay community and talked to people for whom Club Q has always been more than just a bar.

NOEL BLACK, BYLINE: Until this weekend, I hadn't spoken to Club Q owner Nic Grzecka for many years. But when I got a call at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday to cover the mass shooting, I reached out to him. We both grew up here, and Club Q opened right after he graduated from high school and came out in 2000.

NIC GRZECKA: Club Q has never been a business for me. It was a family. It was every one of these people I've grown up with, every one of these people from myself growing up there.

BLACK: The morning after the shooting, Nic and his business partner, Matthew Haynes, huddled around a table at a hotel, fielding calls from everyone from Governor Jared Polis to the FBI.

GRZECKA: I remember my first Pride, actually, and my mother came with me. And there was a line out the door. And I didn't work there or anything. And I had known the bartender, and I knew Matthew by name. And I was - oh, here, they need some help. Let's just walk to the front. And we just came in and just started washing glasses and - so that's what I mean. It's just been home.

BLACK: Jessie Pocock runs Inside Out Youth Services. It supports LGBTQIA+ kids and organizes a local queer prom. Dancing is one of the organization's core values.

JESSIE POCOCK: When we are in our bodies dancing, we are not in trauma. We are fully physically liberated in that moment. And, physiologically, we are safe. What were people doing at Club Q? They were dancing in their bodies. They were expressing their liberation and their safety. And that is so painful to not have the human right to do that in safety and in love and to have a shooter come in. It's (expletive) up.

BLACK: Because Club Q has been one of the only gay bars in town for nearly 20 years, it's had to fill a lot of niches. They host drag balls, brunches, dance parties and just about anything the community needs. San Francisco-based documentary filmmaker Tom Shepard grew up in Colorado Springs and lives here part-time. He remembers being afraid to move back after Focus on the Family arrived and Colorado passed Amendment 2, which banned gay marriage in the early 1990s.

TOM SHEPARD: You know, we were the hate state, and Colorado Springs was the hate city.

BLACK: He even played tennis with Will Perkins, one of the authors of the amendment, which was struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court in 1993.

SHEPARD: And, you know, I remember playing tennis with him and thinking, like, if he knew who I was - you know? - would he be so friendly to me? So those were rough years.

BLACK: Tom says Club Q has always felt like a place to escape discrimination, which he says can often be worst in queer people's own homes. Artist Jessie Langley (ph) is angry that the shooting happened in one of the few places in Colorado Springs where she felt free.

JESSIE LANGLEY: I feel like we need to change that narrative around freedom to thinking about freedom from fear. What about my freedom to not live in fear of being murdered?

BLACK: Club Q's owners don't know if or when it'll reopen. Jessie says she hopes queer people will be out and together in the streets in the meantime.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: On Wednesday, hundreds of people were - watching the unfurling of the Pride flag that flew over Pulse nightclub after the mass shooting there in 2016. Two young trans kids are making their way through the crowd, handing out posters with electric pink triangles and the words, trans people belong here.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Trans people do belong here.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: And I'm trans.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: They definitely do. I'm trans, too. I was born a boy and, later on, now I am a girl. Is this on the news?

BLACK: It will be on the news.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: OK.

BLACK: It's going to be on the national news.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Oh, yea.

BLACK: This is the first time a pride flag has ever been flown at city hall in Colorado Springs. For NPR News, I'm Noel Black.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel Black