The tragedy at Club Q has been high on my mind today.
As a gay man who has been fighting the political and social battles for 35 years, it gets exhausting. My first experiences after coming out were of friends dying of AIDS — then of my state, Colorado, passing Amendment 2 (the 1992 ballot measure, later found unconstitutional, that prohibited the state from enacting antidiscrimination protections for anyone gay, lesbian or bisexual). For those who do not know or remember, Amendment 2 had roots in Colorado Springs. The city was home of the Promise Keepers, Colorado for Family Values — which actually drafted Amendment 2 — and other religious-right organizations that propelled the initiative onto the ballot. Upon passage, not only did Amendment 2 prevent cities from passing anti-discrimation laws, it revoked those that had been passed in Aspen, Denver, Boulder and Telluride.
During that campaign, I spoke at rallies — and I was spat on, called names, and had my life threatened. As a young gay man, Amendment 2’s passage basically told me I was not worthy, not equal simply because of who I was and who I loved.
It was places like Club Q that offered me refuge back then. I remember loving going to the clubs, despite truly despising the cigarette smoke that engulfed them. I remember staggering home at 2 a.m., my eyes burning and my breath smelling like I had just made out with a cigarette tray, to immediately wash the stench from both my body and clothes. Despite this love-hate relationship, I would return the next weekend because it was a safe space, in a very hateful world, filled with people like me: full of love and community.
This was lost for those at Club Q Saturday night.
Thirty-five years later, there are still the bigots, the haters, the politicians on the right who use LBGTQIA+ (or any minority group) as pawns to stair-step their way to power — then maintain plausible deniability when atrocities happen, denying any personal responsibility and offering thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers, however, do not bring back the dead or prevent future tragedies. Nor do they bring about any redemption for leaders.
After 35 years, I get the fear, hate and ignorance. But through my journey, I’ve learned that there is something more powerful than these hurtful emotions: love. When you begin a dialogue from love and empathy, imagine what that would do for governance and for creating powerful change. In my mind, this tragedy brings yet another opportunity to create the society we want. What path will you personally take? What path will you demand that your elected leaders take in order for them to earn your vote in the next election?
Todd Chamberlin, Executive Director, Sopris Sun Carbondale