Feature writing

LGBTQ+ issues

Club Q owner: we will reopen. The shooter, and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, will not win

The Daily Beast

December 10, 2022

Club Q co-owner Matthew Haynes and drag queens Autumn Quinn and Hysteria Brooks talk grief, memories, reopening the venue, and why people must stand against anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

Upstairs in New York City’s storied Stonewall bar Friday evening—rainbow Christmas tree twinkling, a microphone-check underway—Matthew Haynes, co-owner of Club Q, was reflecting on the three weeks since a gunman shot dozens of people, five fatally, at the Colorado Springs LGBTQ club.

“Sometimes it feels like three years, sometimes it feels like three minutes,” Haynes told The Daily Beast. “Yes, it’s grief, and it’s also been such a large process from that night when we were dealing with what had happened, then all the police, all the investigation pieces going on in that first week—identifying the victims, who their families were. The last funeral was on Wednesday. Daniel (Aston, bartender). It was a lovely funeral.”

Haynes paused. “But can you imagine… I have two adoptive children myself, and it was so hard to watch a slideshow of such a young man’s life. Daniel’s parents had to pick those slides out. No parent should ever have to do that—certainly not at the hands of hate, certainly not at the hands of that sort of weapon.”

As well as Aston, bartender Derrick Rump was killed, alongside clubgoers Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, and Raymond Green Vance. Haynes had come to New York with two drag queens from the club, Autumn Quinn and Hysteria Brooks, for a benefit in aid of Club Q in partnership with GLAAD and Drag Story Hour. Right-wing rhetoric and mobilizing directed at such events, and attacks online against LGBTQ people, have continued unabated since the attack at Club Q. (Suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was this week charged with 305 criminal counts, including first-degree murder, bias-motivated crimes, assault, and attempted murder.)

“We will open up the club again,” Haynes told The Daily Beast. “It’s a process. It’s very important to us and our community to have a memorial there, but we don’t want to spend years getting that memorial. Our guys wouldn’t want that. They would want something that stated what happened and memorialize it appropriately. We also want to make sure that security is harder than what it was without it becoming Fort Knox. There’s a balance: how does one do that, what does that look like?

“Obviously there’s a fair amount of damage inside the building, so we are making sure it has an appropriate renovation so we are able to tell its story. That story is more than a couple of minutes of violence and shooting. It’s what the building was before and what it is going to be in the future, as well as telling what happened to us, and all this outpouring of love and support we have had internationally. Our process of dealing with it is making sure our voices are heard, hate is recognized, those who were killed or injured have their stories told, and that we ask for help and donations for the victims, the memorial, and reopening.”

Haynes goes to the site regularly, though he doesn’t go into the bar itself on a daily basis. Only he and one other person have access to its interior, he said. They ensure the building is secure, “and that there are no looky-loos in there. There won’t be any photos or videos taken inside the building. It is extremely difficult to be there. I have 20 years of memories in that building—all of that flashes in front of my eyes when I am there, all of those memories. What is amazing is the growing memorial in front of the building. It’s huge. Hundreds of people come every single day from all walks of life. Some have driven from far away. They feel like they want to put something there, and just be there.”

Haynes has been collecting the art, items, and “many lovely letters” people have left to preserve it for telling the story of the club later. “It keeps arriving. It’s moving, very moving.”

Haynes wonders why law enforcement wasn’t more actively involved in monitoring the alleged shooter given their previous reported behavior.

“I’m very concerned there will be more ‘Club Q’s,” Haynes told The Daily Beast. “The next mass shooter is out there. They are likely on websites fantasizing. They are planning tactics, purchasing their next assault weapons. It’s more than likely they have already had contact with law enforcement. How do we stop the next attack?”

Addressing anti-LGBTQ politicians and right-wing activists deliberately stoking hatred, crafting anti-LGBTQ legislation, and targeting drag-related events and LGBTQ venues, Haynes said: “Don’t you realize the damage you are doing? You are saying and doing this without understanding the consequences, and without understanding how it makes an LGBTQ person feel. You are deliberately stoking the anger and irrationality of people who want to hate, allowing them to justify their actions. It’s time for every human, every person with compassion in this country, to stand up for their fellow Americans. It’s about humanity.”

However, the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” rhetoric continues, with drag queens and trans people the focus of relentless attacks and demonization.

“It makes us very angry,” said Haynes. “First of all, what happened in our bar should never have happened in the first place. I’m angry at the people who continue the rhetoric and those who don’t stand up to speak out against that rhetoric. We all have the right to love who we wish to love and able to identify how we feel we identify inside. To blatantly speak out against this right, to blatantly speak out against humanity or not speak up for it, just makes us all very angry.”

Since the shooting, Autumn has been struck by the right-wing media not correctly describing or comprehending Club Q as a place of queer safety that has been attacked—and what that means. “Instead they make slurs and be derogatory, describing us as not-people, a sub-group. We are not less-then. Our last president (Trump) fed them this script to use against us.”

“The hate that people in power have steaming out of their mouths, the anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric is detrimental—especially for youth,” Hysteria told The Daily Beast. “Six years ago, when Pulse was hit, I was devastated as a small gay boy growing up in south Texas. It made me think: if it happened in Florida, it could happen where I live. You never know it’s going to be you until it’s you.”

“If you are a true Christian and you want to claim you speak the word of God, God has said to love thy neighbor as you would love yourself,” said Hysteria. “I don’t think you would want a gunman going into your home or safe space and killing your family and your friends. So don’t spew that hate when it comes to our family and our friends.”


“He was my Ranch-when-I-was-out-of-Ranch buddy”

Neither Autumn nor Hysteria were at Club Q that night. They were extremely close to Rump and Aston, and knew Vance and others involved in the tragedy. Autumn’s roommate was hosting the show that night and hid backstage.

“It’s been hard,” Autumn told The Daily Beast. “I am healing day by day. We get new information about our friends every day. They are grieving in ways I am not used to seeing. I’ve lost my job, my friends, my safe space. This is the first time I have worn drag since. It’s a little overwhelming.” Then she smiled. “But I feel pretty!”

Autumn and Rump started work at Club Q the same day around six years ago. “It was Halloween weekend. He was beautiful, fun,” she recalled. “There were dramas, both in our lives and the wider world. He helped me through my low lows, and I was there at his lowest. He was so sassy. If he and I were working you knew you were going to get insulted.”

Hysteria recalled meeting Aston at the bar when he moved to the area during the pandemic. “He was my protector. He lived across the parking lot from me. He was my late-night Whataburger-run buddy, my Ranch-when-I-was-out-of-Ranch buddy, my handyman. He was a big part of my life. We would find ourselves sitting in my living room in my apartment. He’d be drinking beer. I’d be demolishing a bottle of wine. We would talk about life, the trauma we had grown up in.

“I was brought up in south Texas. He was raised in Tulsa. Growing up as a trans individual was not always easy. But he did have supportive parents, which is very important. They are phenomenal people. A lot of our community is trans, and Daniel had such a powerful, inspiring way to look at life. He always said to focus on who you are, and what made you feel most comfortable.”

Haynes said he had grieved for both those he knew personally, as well as the safe refuge, and sense of safety, the community as a whole had lost as a result of the shooting. He has been very moved by staff, customers, friends, and family coming together to support one another, to talk and remember. “Somebody listening is somebody who can make a difference. The grieving process for me is to make sure this isn’t forgotten. We can change the hearts and minds of people. They were just kids growing, doing what their hearts told them what to do. The customers who were there were friends and allies, giving our community love and acceptance. Two lost their lives doing so.”

The mix of customers—LGBTQ and straight—was normal for Club Q, Haynes said. “I wish our leaders would reflect that same humanity. Why can’t you accept people who are different to you and love differently to you? Why do you have to legislate against them? Why do you have to speak against them?”

Haynes also spoke of Colorado Springs as the home-base for anti-LGBTQ groups such as Focus on the Family. “They have done a lot of damage over the years. There is a lot of scarring from all they have done. Of course, they don’t want to see people killed, but they campaign against LGBTQ rights, and don’t do anything about anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.”

While Focus on the Family condemned the attack, Haynes told The Daily Beast it and other anti-LGBTQ organizations had not reached out directly to offer support. “Obviously I’m not surprised,” said Haynes. “But I would hope at some point they would, because their ministry is supposed to be about healing and love. Their rhetoric is ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner.’ We’re not sinners. We’re just people who love.”

The city had changed in recent times, said Haynes. “Certainly 20 years ago when we started the bar, Colorado Springs was the epicenter of hate. The city recruited these organizations, and gave them tax breaks to spew their hate. But the people of Colorado Springs are decent people. A month ago, if you said to me how would Colorado Springs respond to something like this, I would have said, ‘Pretty good.’ I can tell you today that the reaction at all levels has been amazing—from the police investigating it to the chief of police calling me the next day, the DA, Governor, mayor. Our city has gone from hate to progressive, and shown leadership on how accept and love the LGBTQ community.”


“America is a very broken place”

In time, Haynes says he and others from Club Q, want to push for legislation around hate crimes and gun control. “We feel very passionately this story has to continue,” Haynes said. “Bills need to be passed. Those five victims, the others that were shot—none of them were willing martyrs for angry, crazy people to have right to have stupid guns.”

Haynes said this week had produced glaring evidence of legislative prejudice. “Congress passed the same-sex marriage bill. It’s a wonderful compromise, but we need to recognize that in 2022, 169 congress-people voted against it—a huge number. My right to be married to my husband was decided ages ago. It’s a given in the modern progressive world. But here in America 169 members of Congress voted no. That in itself is hate. Those 169 votes make each LGBTQ person feel less of a person. How do we change that? It’s not good enough. America is a very broken place. This rhetoric, this hate, this non-acceptance is still going on.”

Autumn said she had come from a “very religious” family. “I respect that. I pray with my mother. I would say to people who spread that hate, ‘Every word you say matters. You need to hold yourself accountable for the words you say.’”

Autumn is glad to do all she can to raise awareness, and to talk to politicians like the senator she had just spoken to that day. “We’re not going to fix gun laws but we can talk safety. They have proposed safety for churches and synagogues. Well, LGBTQ people need spaces like bars and clubs the same way Christians need churches—and if you don’t understand that you don’t understand us.”

It was a “great honor” to be at Stonewall, said Haynes, a site of historic struggle and also where—as after so many pivotal events—people gathered for a vigil in the wake of the Club Q shooting. “We are so grateful for people’s support,” Haynes said.

As he sat in the world’s most celebrated LGBTQ bar, Haynes reflected that he had always seen Club Q as “an extension of everyone’s living room.” While there is another LGBTQ-welcoming venue in Colorado Springs Club Q was the major gathering space. “After time away, I always went in for smiles and hugs,” said Haynes. “There was always a sense of community there—somewhere to go after a rough day or to celebrate. I went there after my father passed away. Especially in smaller cities, venues like Club Q are a vital hub. That’s why it’s critical to open up again. A whole new generation needs the space. Young people are still being kicked out of their homes. They still need places to be around their friends, and know they are OK.”

There has been “almost 100 percent support for opening again,” Haynes told The Daily Beast. “Some people who were in the building that night understandably do not want to come back, but a high majority of people have all asked me to reopen. They need the space. They (the alleged shooter) can’t take that from us. They win if they take that from us. They are not going to win. They are not going to destroy a community.”