Club Q was an inclusive, welcoming space for everyone. Its assault is an attack on us all Rebecca Shaw

I was planning to write something light and fun for this week’s column – perhaps my thoughts about peanut butter, or the dangers of waving thank you to bus drivers as you disembark (I fell off a bus).

But a couple of days ago, I woke up to the news that there had been a mass shooting at Club Q, a queer nightclub in Colorado Springs. All shootings are obviously shocking and sickening, but similar to when it happened at Pulse nightclub in 2016, I felt this one deep in my big gay bones. Defense attorneys have since told the court that the alleged shooter was non-binary, and the motive of the shooting is yet to be determined. It doesn’t change how I feel, or change how conservatives, transphobes and “gender critical” forces have created a climate of scrutiny and fear around transgender and queer people.

It is almost impossible to fully explain why LGBTQI spaces like Club Q and others are so sacred. Yes, it’s where we go to be with our friends, to party, to hook up, to hang out, and to feel (relatively) safe while doing so. That is all extremely important. But the special feeling, the rare feeling, is that in those moments, we can thoroughly relax, like we can’t anywhere else. I don’t even mean just because we are protected from bigotry, or from people who don’t like us (although that’s great).

I mean that in those spaces we get a break. We get a break from noticing strangers seeing us, clocking our differences, thinking about us, discussing us. I can have some drinks and kiss my girlfriend on the dance floor, without having to assess who might be noticing us. In those spaces, when I feel comfortable, looking around first doesn’t even have to enter my mind – that’s the break. It’s a beautiful, vital relief.

But these spaces are becoming fewer, and harder to find, even in a city like Sydney. Colorado Springs has a population of about 500,000 and, until recently, Club Q was the only queer bar in the city.

A couple of things have stuck with me in the last few days. This interview with a man named Joshua who was at the club keeps playing in my mind. He has tears streaming down his face as he says “This was our only safe space in Colorado Springs. Where are we going to go?” This is part of why it hurts so much. For someone to take one of the only places where the community can feel safe, and target those inside with violence, is soul-destroying.

I also can’t stop thinking about Daniel Aston and his parents. Daniel was a 28-year-old trans man who worked and performed at Club Q, and was killed by the shooter. His shattered parents Sabrina and Jeff persuaded him to move to Colorado Springs two years ago to be closer to them. In an interview after his death, Sabrina Aston said that Daniel was finally thriving, and the happiest he had ever been.

Daniel had transitioned after college. He was loving life, he was working at a gay bar, and he was surrounded by friends – but that didn’t stop his parents worrying about the dangers of living as a trans person. His mum said “I always worried about it. He’s a trans man and the trans community are really the biggest targets I can think of right now.” Her fears for her son were not unfounded.

I was devastated reading some of the posts Daniel’s friends have written about his death. It is tragic and it is also so familiar. It could have been written about many of my friends. This is where the anger begins to kick in.

This shooting happened when the national discourse around drag queens and trans people in the US is reaching new heights of intolerance, and where almost 300 anti-LGBTQI bills have been introduced by politicians this year – including Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

A memorial for some of the victims of the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A memorial for some of the victims of the shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photograph: Todd Ogden/REX/Shutterstock

But it is not just an American problem – it is being imported to Australia. Drag brunches and storytelling events in Australia have already started being targeted by various groups. A few weeks ago, during Senate estimates, Liberal senator Alex Antic asked “Why is the ABC grooming children with this sort of adult content?” The “grooming” and “adult content” he was referring to was Courtney Act, one of the most high-profile drag queens in the world, appearing on the TV show Play School to read a children’s book about a girl who wants to wear trousers. There is no reason for Antic to bring this up – nor to use those specific words and phrases – other than to espouse the same rhetoric that has been used to turn queer people into villains forever.

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Part of what makes me so angry is that these people claim to be doing all of this for children, to keep them safe. But we are not the enemies, WE are actually thinking about what is safest, and best for children. We do not have an ulterior motive, trying to use this topic to build a following, or a career, or gain political power. We are simply the ones who had our lives stunted because society told us from day one that we couldn’t be who we are.

I didn’t come out until I was in my early 20s, and I feel like I lost a decade of my life to homophobia. All we want is for the next generation to have it a bit easier than we did. We want the next set of queer and trans kids to have support early, and to avoid what so many of my friends have gone through, having mental health struggles and not feeling whole until they get into their 30s or 40s.

Club Q was clearly an inclusive, welcoming space for everyone. The people who died in the shooting ran the spectrum of queer and trans and cis and straight. The hero who brought down the shooter was a war veteran there with his wife and family. The person that assisted him by stomping on the gunman in her heels was a trans woman. This is a snapshot of a queer community much like my own.

The voices driven by hate are already trying to use this horrific incident to further their agenda. They are twisting things, blaming trans people for the attack, and trying to separate transphobia and homophobia – hoping the trans community will become even easier to target.

It can’t work. We cannot let it. An attack on some of us is an attack on all of us. It’s time to decide which side of history you are on.

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