JP Leskovich, a first-year student at University of Pittsburgh School of Law, discusses the need to counter hatred directed at the LGBTQ community in the aftermath of the Club Q shooting...
Last Sunday was Transgender Remembrance Day, the day the LGBTQ community and its allies mourn trans people lost to violence and vow to erase transphobic hate. In the runup to Sunday, people were talking about how Transgender Remembrance Day was particularly important this year, given the push for anti-trans legislation in many states. Tragically, another stark reminder of its importance was soon to come.
The night before, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, people from all walks of life were gathered in Club Q, an LGBTQ club that served as a haven in a longtime conservative bastion. They were there to celebrate life, enjoy each other’s presence, and have fun; there was a drag show planned for the evening. Instead of enjoying their night out, they suffered tragedy when someone walked into Club Q with an assault weapon and opened fire, killing 5 people and injuring 18 more. More lives could have been lost, if not for the bravery of a veteran and a trans woman who confronted the shooter, wrestled their gun away, and subdued them. On the eve of Transgender Remembrance Day, the LGBTQ community experienced our worst attack since the Pulse shooting six years ago.
This was not a random tragedy but the predictable result of a continued hate campaign against LGBTQ people in general and trans people in particular.
The technical term is stochastic terrorism. This is defined as “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.” Law enforcement and extremism experts have used the term to describe the “lone wolf” shootings inspired by white supremacy, such as the 2018 synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; the 2019 mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand; the 2019 Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas; the 2021 spa shooting in Atlanta, Georgia; and more. Each of these shootings were committed by individuals who acted alone but who were radicalized and incited by targeted hateful messaging.
LGBTQ people are currently the target of such a hate campaign, and the violence at Club Q is the horrifying result of this deliberate dehumanization. In addition to the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans bills introduced in the past two years, numerous politicians, social media accounts, and influencers have promoted, echoed, and broadened the audience for hateful and dehumanizing rhetoric. A 2022 report from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) found that anti-LGBTQ “groomer” narratives and other hateful content have been increasing online, surging dramatically after Florida passed its “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“We’re in the middle of a growing wave of hate and demonization targeting LGBTQ people—often distributed digitally by opportunistic politicians and so-called ‘influencers’ for personal gain,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, in a press release about the HRC report. “Online hate and lies reflect and reinforce offline violence and hate. The normalization of anti-LGBTQ narratives in digital spaces puts LGBTQ+ people in danger.”
While extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is most often propagated by right-wing influencers, the national media watchdog FAIR noted in a post-shooting article, “It is important to remember the media’s role in normalizing violent and hateful right-wing rhetoric.” FAIR goes on to detail how outlets like the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and CNN have published articles that “ask questions” about safe medical transition and mainstream “groomer” rhetoric. Together, legislative assaults on LGBTQ communities, extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, and a degree of normalization from the mainstream media combine to create a dangerous environment for LGBTQ people. It’s the kind of environment that results in stochastic terrorism like the Club Q shooting.
Unfortunately, the Club Q shooting was not a breaking point for this hate. Right-wing social media accounts and influencers have shown no signs of remorse. In fact, they’ve doubled down on anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. A stark example of this is LibsOfTikTok, a right-wing hate and disinformation account, targeting a Colorado drag event the day after the shooting. Matt Walsh, a prominent right-wing influencer, even suggested that drag queens and trans people were responsible for the shooting because they committed the crime of existing.
Even the mainstream media, who has rightfully condemned the attack, initially reported that the trans woman who confronted the shooter was a drag queen. Though it was due to the confusion of initial reporting and publications later issued corrections, this kind of oversight and erasure can impact lasting narratives. Many people still believe she was a drag queen.
If this isn’t the end, how do we move forward and prevent the next tragedy? The most important thing to do is call out right-wing moral panics about LGBTQ people wherever they are. Reject narratives that we’re “groomers,” inherently sexual, or dangerous. Support trans people unequivocally, defending their ability to access medical care and their right to live happy and peaceful lives. Push back against anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans laws that seek to criminalize LGBTQ youth and prevent people from talking about our communities. Vocalize your support, making it loud and clear that hate will not be tolerated. A March report from HRC showed that support for LGBTQ rights continues to rise despite the hateful rhetoric. Anti-LGBTQ hate is not popular, and that needs to be clearly asserted.
Ultimately, remember that we protect us. It wasn’t the police that stopped the Club Q shooter; it was two regular people who stood up for their community. We can resist the rising tides of hate and white supremacy if we build strong communities, protect one another, and stand in solidarity. Hate will not prevail if together we push back against it.
JP Leskovich (he/him) is a first-year law student at University of Pittsburgh School of Law.
Suggested citation: JP Leskovich, The Club Q Shooting Was an Act of Terror that Must Be Resisted, JURIST – Student Commentary, December 1, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/12/jp-leskovich-club-shooting-act-of-terror/.
This article was prepared for publication by Hayley Behal, JURIST Commentary Co-Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.