After a tragedy felt throughout the state and the entire nation, members and supporters of the local LGBTQ+ community have banded together to prove there is still love and support in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“Our right is to feel safe and to express our identity without fear of being prosecuted or attacked,” newly elected state Rep. Elizabeth Velasco said.
On Sunday night, the Bluebird Cafe in Glenwood Springs hosted a vigil to commemorate the victims of the fatal Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs the night before. And, the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in Carbondale on Thursday morning included a “Queersgiving Tailgate” reception to remind local members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community that they still have a place where they can feel safe.
The local show of support came in the aftermath of the Nov. 19 shooting at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub on Nov. 19 that killed five people and injured 17. The alleged shooter is facing possible hate crime charges in addition to first-degree murder.
“It’s been a rough few days,” Queersgiving event organizer Kaleb Cook said. “The queer community for sure are hurting a lot, but really trying to figure out how we can use our community to build from that and figure out what we can do to take action to make sure that queer people do feel safe in our community and actually have a sense of belonging.”
Velasco attended the Sunday vigil at the Bluebird Cafe — held on Trans Day Of Remembrance — to show her support not just as a politician, but as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, stating that she is a proud bisexual woman and it is just as much her community to defend.
“It was really heartwarming to see so many people come together at the Bluebird here in Glenwood Springs because we need those safe spaces to mourn, to gather, to celebrate and to help each other out,” she said.
Emotions in the valley range from fear to optimism for the future of LGBTQ+ people, but for the most part, support is still felt.
“Our valley is rich with resources that support the LGBTQIA+ community in so many ways, and we are fortunate that we live in an incredible state; a state that protects our most vulnerable,” said Sheri Smith, a co-founder and board member of the LGBTQ+ resource organization PFlag of the Roaring Fork Valley. “With that said, though, there are still so many of our community members that live in fear that they may be targeted for living authentically.”
Instead of letting hate or anger take over, Velasco, Smith and Cook all look to love and optimism to fight hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community.
“May we all learn to judge a little less, love a little more, and respect the differences that our neighbors may have,” Smith said.
Cook Inclusive Company, a nonprofit founded by Cook, focuses on supporting all underserved communities including the LGBTQ+ community, while PFlag of the Roaring Fork Valley is a nonprofit that promotes a safe and loving space for people and directs members of the LGBTQ+ community to various resources.
“The good in this valley absolutely outweighs the bad,” local LGBTQ+ community member Steve Mills said. “There’s a way more loving, open minded people in the valley who really want to build a strong community, and then you get these few people with a platform that spew hate.”
He said that they have their own platforms and audiences for people to cling onto, but the youth of the LGBTQ+ community see that and it can really hurt them and their self image. It can even cause them to be more prone to hurting themselves, Mills said.
“It just creates a bigger divide,” he said. “It’s just, it’s not necessary. There’s so many other things that we should be worried about in this valley than worrying about who someone loves or how they identify. That should not be a focus in this valley.”
Representation, safety and community compassion are key to making members of the LGBTQ+ community aware that they belong. Adding additional struggles to self image at a young age can only create more struggles later in life, Mills added.
“I know how much it’s benefited me having safe places to go growing up, and in all the different communities I’ve lived in,” he said. “Especially now, I think it’s really important for us to stay together.”
Janet Gordon, a counselor based in Carbondale who works with LGBTQ+ clients, also wants to remind both allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community that they are no more susceptible to mental health issues than anyone else. But the added stress of hateful rhetoric and bullying can take a toll on anyone, she said.
“I don’t ever want another week where clients are coming in saying they are afraid to be in that community,” Gordon said.
Hate speech and hateful rhetoric has an impact both for the folks on the receiving end and on the community as a whole, she said.
What both Gordon and Velasco found disturbing was that the shooter was still able to access a weapon and harm people after a previous encounter with police involving alleged violent threats.
Bullying can be damaging, words hurt and words have an impact, and pretending they don’t is damaging our society, Gordon said.
“Being an ally is an action,” she said. “Being an ally is a verb. What folks can do is show up and stand up for safe spaces, for schools being safer, for more affirming spaces.”