Survivors of a deadly attack at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs and other advocates told a U.S. House panel Wednesday that political rhetoric and policy fights dehumanize LGBTQ people and contribute to such violence.
Democrats and Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee largely sympathized with the survivors, but drew different conclusions about the root issues and what should be done next. Republicans said Congress should focus on rising crimes against all victims, pledging to make the issue a priority when they take control of the House next month.
Two survivors of the Nov. 19 Club Q attack and the club’s founding owner testified about the shooting, which they said in addition to the physical harm it caused shattered the sense of safety and community the club represented to the LGBTQ community. Five people were killed in the attack, and 17 others suffered gunshot wounds.
“Club Q was a second home and safe space not just for me, but for all of us,” one survivor, James Slaugh, said.
“Outside of these spaces we are continually being dehumanized, marginalized and targeted. The fear-based and hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ+, especially around trans individuals and drag performers, leads to violence. It incites violence.”
The club has received “hundreds of hateful comments” since the shooting last month, founding owner Matthew Haynes said. He read a sample, which included anti-gay slurs, praise of the shooter and wishes that more LGBTQ victims had died.
Despite the ongoing hate, the survivors said they would persist.
“Hateful people want to drive us back into closets and live our lives in fear,” Slaugh said. “But we cannot be afraid. No bullets will stop us from being proud of who we are or will injure the support and love that exists in our community.”
Part of the fault for anti-LGBTQ violence lies with politicians who seek advantage in diminishing LGBTQ people, witnesses told the panel.
Haynes was at the White House on Tuesday to see President Joe Biden sign into law a bill to protect same-sex marriages, he said. The joy and pride he felt at the signing was undercut by the knowledge that 169 House Republicans voted against the measure, he said.
“You as a leader sent a clear message: It is okay not to respect the basic human right of loving who you love,” Haynes said of the House members who voted against the measure. “We are being slaughtered and dehumanized across this country in communities you took oath to protect. LGBTQ issues are not political issues. They are not lifestyles, they are not beliefs, they are not choices. They are basic human rights.”