Elizabeth Pixie is angry.
She’s mad that her friend Daniel Aston was killed in a shooting at Club Q. She’s mad that she had to move to Colorado from Texas because she felt unsafe as a trans woman there. And she’s angry at people who have spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online, some for years, before the shooting.
“They can call it religion, they can call it politics, they can call it saving people,” said Pixie, who lives in Colorado Springs. “Whatever fluff or crap they want to spray on him, they can do it, but at the end of the day, these people are killers.”
On Saturday night, a suspected shooter entered the LGBTQ club and opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing Aston and four other people and wounding at least 19 others. The suspect was taken into custody by police after being wounded. in the attack and is in the hospital. Although authorities have not shared a motive, the suspect faces five counts of first-degree murder and hate or bias crimes.
Pixie is not alone in her fury. As they grapple with the angst, other local and national activists in Colorado Springs also described being angry, and they attribute that anger to the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills proposed by conservative representatives in dozens of states, an increase in violence against people trans and the failure of some of the media to accurately report on it all.
“I keep going back and forth between a level of devastation and sadness and loss to a level of anger,” said Pixie, 30.
James Davis, who lived in Colorado Springs most of his life, said he feels an “incredible and all too familiar injustice that this is predictable.” In 2016, after 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub, a gay club in Orlando, Florida, Davis said he felt sad and closed off, but after hearing about Club Q, he was “just mad.”
“This is cause and effect,” he said. “There’s so much dog whistling and scripting for people who need it to go out there, get the gun, blast their way into space and do this thing that they know they’re going to be the mass shooter, they’re going to be on the news.”
Davis wrote a poem about Club Q in 2019 that has been widely shared on social media since the shooting. She said the club “doesn’t deserve this”.
“He only deserves to serve people who are stuck in Colorado Springs for whatever reason, and who are trying to live an authentic life and have a place to hang out and feel normal,” he said. “And someone decided that was too much, too much for the people who work there and the people who enjoy going there.”
Pixie, who wasn’t at the club that night, was still describing her friend in the present tense on Monday, calling him an “absolute sweetheart.”
She recalled the first time she met Aston, a bartender at Club Q, he said: “You are absolutely the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life. What can I get you?”
“He was so gender affirming in every way,” Pixie said. “He always made sure that even if you didn’t feel valid or beautiful, when you walked in there, he made sure you knew you mattered.”
Aston invited her to perform at the club, which she did for around four months. He also once stood up for her and protected her from a client who made a transphobic comment, he said.
Pixie, who worked at a pharmacy, said she left Texas also because the state began investigating parents providing gender-affirming care to minors. She didn’t want to be forced to turn in any of her underage clients.
He specifically named the Libs of TikTok social media account, which has 1.5 million followers on Twitter, saying it is responsible for spreading hate. The account shares photos and videos of drag teachers, performers, and others who are LGBTQ or advocate for inclusion and falsely labels them as children who sexually abuse them.
The account owner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, Parker Grey, who has lived in Colorado Springs for about five years and used to go to Club Q regularly because she lived next door, said locals were gathering outside the club to cry, but she could feel the tension as a result. of the strong media presence.
“It wasn’t a great atmosphere, just because a lot of the news and media were talking very loudly about the best opportunity to get, where they could stand, and all the while, there were our community members, just standing there looking at this building. which we have been to hundreds of times and we pass every week,” he said Monday. “It seemed like there was an angry air and a sad air.”
Gray said she stopped going to Club Q about a year and a half ago because the local climate felt increasingly unsafe due to both the national rhetoric surrounding LGBTQ people and the fact that Colorado Springs, unlike Denver, it’s only an hour north. more conservative. He said the only reason he felt safe was because he could hide his identity as a trans man.
Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said during a news conference Monday that many LGBTQ people feel unsafe in their communities across the country and that the fear “didn’t come out of nowhere.” He noted that the shooting also occurred on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance honoring transgender homicide victims that began in 1999, and that Club Q had planned to honor the day with a drag performance to All ages on Sunday.
“In the 10 years that we have been tracking fatal violence against trans and non-binary people, we have recorded more than 300 deaths, with 2021 being the deadliest year on record for trans lives,” Robinson said. “And we know that some of the Q Club victims also identified as trans.”
Robinson called violence against LGBTQ people a crisis that “has not happened in a vacuum.”
“The violence that we are seeing is directly related to anti-LGBTQ extremism,” he said. “In the last year, we’ve seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills advance in the States, and some of those same politicians are behind the attacks that we’re seeing at the state level, they’re using their platforms. call us ‘predators’ and ‘groomers’. In the meantime, sending thoughts and prayers and pretending they played no role in this tragedy.”
Erin Reed, a Maryland-based trans activist and legislative researcher, said anyone who has been active in the LGBTQ community knows that the risk of violence has been building nationally for months.
He mentioned a bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital in August, which occurred after TikTok notebooks and other conservative social media accounts claimed without evidence that the hospital provides gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under the age of 18, NBC reported at the time. The hospital denied the claims.
“We’ve all said that these people are going to get someone killed because of the language they’re using and the actions they’re taking,” Reed said.
Pixie believes that Aston is now a victim of that violence.
He said that one of the things that he will miss the most is his hugs. Pixie said that once, when Aston finished a shift at the club, she told him that it had been a rough night, so she wrapped him in a big hug.
“And he let out a deep breath, like that breath where you know you’ve given someone a really good hug,” he said.