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Local LGBTQ community and allies come together after Colorado Springs shooting

Kaleb Cook
Cook Inclusive Company
Community members gather Sunday for a candlelight vigil organized by local LGBTQIA+ groups and allies at the Bluebird Café in Glenwood Springs in the wake of the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs. The local cafe is known as a safe space for many in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

People are coming together around the country and here in the Roaring Fork Valley in the wake of the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs over the weekend — and local advocates say there’s still a lot of work to be done.

At least five people were killed and about 19 others were injured at Club Q late Saturday.

The suspect, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, is in police custody.

The shooting comes amid a spike in anti-trans and anti-gay political rhetoric, protests and laws being proposed in Colorado and across the country.

The suspect’s defense team reportedly said in court filings that Aldrich is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

Locals gather for a vigil in Glenwood Springs 

Around 60 community members attended a vigil Sunday night in Glenwood Springs to mourn the lives lost.

Kevin McManamon, executive director at AspenOUT, helped organize the evening with PFLAG Roaring Fork Valley and other LGBTQ+ groups and allies.

“It was heartbreaking but wonderful,” McManamon said. “It was thrown together within a few hours, but we had really good attendance. It was packed.”

The vigil was held at the Bluebird Café on Grand Avenue, a safe space and a haven for many in the valley.

People held candles and there was a moment of silence before the organizers opened it up for community members to speak.

“I could barely get my words out because I was in tears,” McManamon said. “Some other people spoke, some parents, some students, some young people. I think that everyone walked away from the evening thinking, ‘Well, there is love, there is support. I am safe even though I sometimes have to look over my shoulder.’”

Local resident Kaleb Cook, who also helped plan the vigil, was the first to speak Sunday night.

“It felt like the day was kind of going in slow motion and I just couldn't get my brain around what happened,” Cook said in an interview. “That really easily could have been me. I was in the gay bars the week before on the Front Range.”

”It was so good to have the vigil that night because all of us were feeling the same way,” he added. “We all didn't know what to do, but we always know that when we come together, it can be better.”

Cook is on the board of Gay For Good and PFLAG Roaring Fork Valley — and he founded the Cook Inclusive Company.

The nonprofit provides career-focused, therapeutic recreation services to people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, the Latino community and other historically excluded groups.

Janet Gordon, a licensed professional counselor who works with AspenOUT and LGBTQIA+ and gender-nonconforming community members, was another ally who stepped up to organize the vigil.

“There's so much joy in safe spaces for people and especially, you know, the LGBTQIA+ community,” she said in an interview. “And to have that shattered breaks your heart.”

It wasn’t lost on Gordon that the mass shooting at Club Q, a safe space for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs, came on the eve of the national Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day honors the memory of people who have been killed because of their gender identity and presentation.

“You know, so many minority communities are under attack right now, and with Sunday being Transgender Remembrance Day and the level of violence that transgender folks face, it's just heartbreaking,” she said.

Gordon was grateful to see that new state Re.-elect Elizabeth Velasco spoke at Sunday’s vigil.

Gordon said having the support of political leaders and safe spaces such as the Bluebird Café is more important now than ever.

“Hate speech affects all of us,” she said. “The homophobic, transphobic, antisemitic, racist rhetoric that is the talking points of so many politicians today is damaging. I see it with my clients. I see how they are damaged by it and hurt by it.”

That’s something that Cook said he can relate to.

“I've been having nightmares and really just questioning my safety,” he said.

Hateful rhetoric being spread ‘close to home’ 

Cook, who grew up in rural Iowa and moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in May, said he has found the community to be welcoming and supportive in many ways, but said there is still discrimination.

“I know this valley is a very safe and inclusive place, but there's hate that exists even within our valley, and it's really hard for me to feel comfortable going out and being myself,” he said.

On Monday night, Cook learned that Aspen parent Anna Zane had retweeted a post from conservative political commentator Matt Walsh, who recently released a controversial documentary on gender identity.

Zane last year ran an unsuccessful race for the Aspen School District board and is co-owner of the local restaurant chain Zane’s Tavern.

News of the retweet had been circulating among community members since Sunday, when Zane first shared Walsh’s statement.

“Leftists are using a mass shooting to try and blackmail us into accepting the castration and sexualization of children,” Walsh tweeted. “These people are just beyond evil. I have never felt more motivated to oppose everything they stand for, with every fiber of my being. Despicable scumbags.”

Aspen Public Radio reached out to Zane for comment Tuesday, but has not gotten a response as of Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Cook said the tweet perpetuates the same misinformation and hateful rhetoric that led to the mass shooting at Club Q in the first place.

“It's dangerous rhetoric to be spreading, especially somewhere so close to home,” he said. “I honestly blocked out the news for a little bit because it was bringing me to a dark place. It's just really hard to see that business owners and people that are running for positions are having that hateful of speech after such a horrendous attack on the queer community. Not only are we getting attacked and killed, but we're also getting attacked for just existing.”

Rainbow pride flags hang at the base of Aspen Mountain on in honor of the lives lost at an LGBTQ nightclub over the weekend.
Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Pride flags hang at the base of Aspen Mountain on Wednesday in honor of the lives lost at an LGBTQ nightclub over the weekend. In spite of misinformation and hateful rhetoric, local advocates said they are seeing more mental health resources and peer support networks popping up in the valley.

Resources and community support continue to grow 

In spite of misinformation and hateful rhetoric, Cook, McManamon and Gordon agreed that they are seeing more mental health resources, youth programs, support networks and community groups popping up in the valley.

That includes the Roaring Fork School District’s new gender toolkit, the recent Queer VOICES theater show and performances by The Roaring Divas, a recently formed local drag queen group.

“There's so many more resources now than there were, you know, even eight years ago, five years ago,” Gordon said. “I do see people stepping forward, coming together, more opportunities.”

McManamon, who became involved with AspenOUT when he first moved to the valley 10 years ago, said he has seen that same growth within his own organization over the past decade.

“You know, back then we mostly had some fun social occasions and we raised a lot of money with Gay Ski Week,” he said. “And then we started working with Janet [Gordon] and we've set up a scholarship fund and a mental health program.”

McManamon said continuing to work with young people in the valley feels especially important after an event such as the recent mass shooting.

“It's devastating to see young people, which is so much work that AspenOUT does, to see them struggle to come out or go back in the closet because of a gay bar getting shot up,” he said. “It will happen. Or they will feel terrible about themselves and something worse will happen. We all know it happens.”

Cook, 22, also recognizes the importance of working with local youth groups.

“We need to continue to create spaces where people feel comfortable being their true selves,” Cook said. “I work with Youth Zone as well to develop safe spaces for youth to be able to have a place of comfort. The youth that are in the community now are way more feisty and way more truly themselves than I was ever able to be. So they continue to inspire me to bring that visibility and bring that representation within our valley.”

In addition to working with young people in the valley, Cook also made waves when he helped the city of Glenwood Springs organize its first annual Pride Celebration shortly after moving here.

“As Janet mentioned at the vigil, how could we have ever imagined Glenwood Springs Pride happening in 1994, when she first moved there? Like, that wasn't a reality for anyone,” he said. “I came here in May and said, ‘What's happening? Why don't we have these services? Why don't we have these programs?’ And it really transformed into having a Pride and having another space and more visibility and representation in our valley. I think we need to keep pushing for that. The worst thing we could do right now is hide.”

‘Queersgiving’ coming to Carbondale this week 

Cook is planning a Queersgiving with AspenOUT on Thursday, an idea that came to him while he was riding the chairlift this week.

After the candlelight vigil in Glenwood Springs, he wanted to find other ways to bring people together.

“Thanksgiving is a really hard time for queer folks,” Cook said. “It's definitely a place where people might not feel safe or comfortable or affirmed within their own original family. So we want to be able to provide them with a chosen family.”

The Queersgiving tailgate will take place at the Carbondale Rec Center on Thursday at 8 a.m. — just before the town’s annual Turkey Trot.

Cook and other organizers will be at the starting line with a rainbow tent to continue mourning the lives lost last weekend.

He said he also wants the day to be a joyful one.

“It's an opportunity for us to really enjoy Thanksgiving with our fellow queer community and allies,” Cook said. “So, please spread the word. Join us if you can. We're hoping to have a great Queersgiving.”

The organizers will be giving out information about community events, mental health resources and other LGBTQ support networks at the gathering.

More details about Thursday’s event can be found on Cook Inclusive Company’s Instagram page.

There is also a list of resources and community events on PFLAG Roaring Fork Valley’s website.

If someone is in crisis, reach out to the Trevor Lifeline online or call 866-488-7386.

Colorado Crisis Services also offers a 24/7 support line, 844-493-8255.

Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and "Morning Edition" anchor. She has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, creative efforts to solve the valley's affordable housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.