COLORADO SPRINGS — The fact that this unthinkable tragedy occurred in Colorado Springs in 2022 is a clear sign that targeted hate and deadly violence against the LGBTQ+ community is still a reality. While you can't remove what happened from our collective consciousness, some progress has been made in the past few decades when it comes to a cultural shift of understanding, empathy, and inclusiveness in Colorado Springs.
A little history lesson now, and for those of us who lived here in the 1990's, Colorado had the dubious national title of the "Hate State", for a ballot initiative, Amendment 2, with the old intent of enshrining discrimination on the basis of sexuality in our state's constitution. The campaign was centered here in Colorado Springs by ultra-conservatives within the community. The ballot measure eventually passed, but ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional.
Fast forward to 2018 and the election of Jared Polis as the first openly gay Governor which he referred to his win as an important closure for the LGBTQ+ community, the beginning of a new era he said, a culture shift for Colorado away from those dark days of hate and discrimination.
And for people like Justin Burns, who I interviewed for this story, who serves on the Pikes Peak Pride board of directors, I asked him if the culture here has changed and what kind of feedback do you get here in Colorado Springs, to which he said, "I do feel in this new age of who Colorado Springs is, we're growing up as a city, we're becoming a lot more accepting, a lot more inclusive, we understand that equity is something that needs to be addressed".
He told me the hatred and bigotry that leads to these kinds of deadly shootings and other acts of discrimination doesn't fly with this new, younger generation here in the city and that, in turn, is having an impact on understanding, not by all, but on parents and grandparents, citing his own personal story with his grandmother who told Justin she just loved him for who he is, getting emotional when he shared that with me, adding, "And part of growing up is a taking responsibility for who we are and how we treat the rest of the world".
There have also been significant changes at the state legislative level that address this culture shift, including the Restoration of Honor Act, ensuring LGBTQ+ veterans receive full honors and benefits from the state. Anti-discrimination protections in foster care and anti-discrimination laws against gender identity and expression, adding transgender and nonbinary folks to the list of protected classes in Colorado. Burns, a keen observer of change here and across the state says, "What we're seeing happen in legislation is an effort to go back and re-humanize these people, we're just humans, just like you Rob, you have kids, do you have a significant other, do you want to live in a happy environment?".
Another direct result of the shooting at Club Q and frankly a tangible sign of a culture shift as well in Colorado Springs is the recent establishment of what's called the Prism Community Collective through the Community Health Partnership, designed to improve the physical and mental well being and provide another safe space for the LGBTQ+ community and Burns was a part of the nearly year-long development process, "And it really created a starting point for all of the organizations and it created the pathways for reconciliation for prior organizations that may or may not have treated our community properly".
At the end of the day, Burns says that in order to sustain this culture shift a community that continues to grieve and heal has to understand that hate continues to be a problem here and across the country, new laws being enacted in other states that reflect discrimination and more targeted, deadly violence against all marginalized communities, Burns says we can't be complicit, "We've got to go back to the core of saying, we are not going to allow and perpetuate this hate, whether it's against LGBTQ people or any other person in our community".
In addition, the community collective and organization called "Diversus Health" has received a federal grant and is now providing behavioral health services exclusively for people impacted by the Club Q shooting in El Paso, Park, and Teller counties. Peer counseling, educational support as well as counseling and therapy are being offered, people should reach out to Diversus Health to receive these services.