But two days after a gunman stormed Club Q, killing five and wounded 18, Padillo finally went through to reflect and grieve with Colorado’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.
“I wanted to see the monument,” Padillo said, standing in front of an array of flowers, candles and rainbow flags. “This is a wake-up call and a cry for change, and while it’s definitely sad, it’s inspiring at the same time.”
While the nation grieves three mass shootings In the past two weeks, the makeshift memorials have served as reminders of the nation’s relentless gun violence. but the tribute a deeper meaning has taken on here: it has become a space for LGBTQ teens and young adults to grieve, honor their community, and ask, “What now?”
Some drove to Colorado Springs from as far away as Boulder, about 90 minutes north, only to stop in front of the monument for a few minutes. Others came with their parents. reflecting a generational change towards adults who support their LGBTQ children. Some have stopped several times in several days, saying they can’t explain why they keep coming.
“I myself am trans and queer,” said a 15-year-old, who asked to be identified by his first name, Eliot, as he viewed the memorial with his 61-year-old grandmother. “As a high school student, I am terrified that this could happen based on someone’s identity. … But being here helps.”
It was not lost on many young visitors that they were standing in front of a bar where they couldn’t even legally drink. However, many said they know what Club Q stands for in this conservative community.
As soon as he heard about the shooting, 20-year-old Wyatt Krob knew he had to travel here from Denver, about an hour north. In January, after months of “connecting all the pieces,” Krob told his parents that he was bisexual. He had planned to visit his father, “but he couldn’t wait for her to get off work,” he said.
Instead, Krob came alone. “I don’t fully understand it,” he said. “I felt called to go and experience it myself.”
Krob, who attends Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., said the memorial’s combination of grief, anguish and “love” helped him better understand that places like Club Q “are sacred places” for the LGBTQ community.
It also allowed him to dig deeper for information about himself. “I wanted to come here, meet other people who are grieving and also maybe have a better understanding of myself,” he said. “I would say for anyone who is questioning, or who identifies as anything other than straight, this definitely goes to their soul.”
A few feet away, Amber Cantorna was standing in a sweatshirt that read “Free Mommy Hugs.” Free Mom Hugs is a national group of women whose members travel to LGBTQ-focused events to support youth.
Cantorna, 38, said the sight of so many young people demonstrated how quickly young adults, and many of their parents, have become more aware of and supportive of issues related to sexual orientation and identity.
“You wouldn’t have seen this when I grew up in Colorado Springs, or when I left a decade ago,” Cantorna said.
Still, in a part of the country where it can take an hour to travel between isolated mountain communities and farms, she knows that many young adults still lack a support network.
Cantorna said she committed suicide and fled to Denver after her family ostracized her and he even took the set of keys to his house when he told them he was gay in 2012. At the time, Cantorna’s father was working as a high-ranking official with Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian advocacy group based in Colorado Springs.
He moved to Colorado Springs last year, but still has no contact with his family.
Even in the tragedy, Cantorna said, the Club Q memorial will become a place that helps members of the LGBTQ community feel less alone.
“Many queer people still live quite rural and isolated lives where they don’t have a community that supports them,” he said. “These are people who may not have family or not have a place to go for vacation this week.”
Barbara Poma, owner of Pulse nightclub in Orlando where a gunman killed 49 people in 2016He said he’s not surprised so many younger Colorado Springs residents choose to grieve publicly at Club Q. The monument across from Pulse still draws hundreds of people a day to the enclosed venue.
“It amazes me to see the families and young people there, but it happens every day,” said Pomo, whose onePULSE foundation is building a permanent memorial to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub. “We have families that come to Orlando for vacation but will still bring their children to visit the memorial. … It is a place of pilgrimage, and a place to bear witness and for people to face pain and have good conversations.”
‘I hope people come here’
The number of younger Americans identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is higher than ever. In February, Gallup discovered that 7 percent of Americans now identify that way.including 21 percent of American adults who were born between 1997 and 2003.
In front of Club Q this week, several parents of gay or transgender children said they saw a family visit to the memorial as a way to show their children that more people love them than hate or want to hurt them.
On Wednesday morning, Layla Aronow brought her 12-year-old transgender son Kai to the memorial from her suburban Denver home. Flowers were placed on the crosses in honor of the victims, while Kai chalked messages on the sidewalk including “We don’t choose who we love, we choose who we hurt.”
“When this happened, especially so close to the holidays, it broke my heart,” said Aronow, 42. , there are hundreds or thousands of people who are trying to do good.
While Aronow and Kai were taking pictures of the candles and chalk writing which now line North Academy Boulevard, received a first-hand lesson in how a community can help fight cruelty. A passenger in an SUV driving by the memorial rolled down his window and shouted an anti-gay slur at the crowd of mourners.
“That person clearly thinks that word is going to hurt us and wants the power to hurt us,” Kai replied. “And it just doesn’t hurt when we’re together.”
Aronow swelled with pride.
“That is exactly what I want my son to say and believe,” she said.
Robin L., another transgender man who visited the memorial with his mother, said he was inspired by the collective mourning in front of Club Q, even though he had never been inside the site.
Robin, who is 21 and asked to be identified only by the first initial of his last name because he is concerned about online bullying, said seeing so many LGBTQ youth standing together this week showed they are “living the dreams of their ancestors.”
“I hope people come here and see that even though this is terrible, there are people everywhere who love them,” Robin said. “We will be here for each other, despite the fear.”
The memorial also drew a steady stream of straight teens and young adults. Many of them also believe that the memorial symbolizes how solidarity can emerge from community sadness.
Ayden Derby, who is straight and a senior at a local high school, said it’s still common for some LGBTQ students to be bullied or harassed. But as Derby, 18, gazed at the monument, he vowed to be a lifelong ally to the LGBTQ community.
“Things like this speak to people and it definitely makes them reconsider the actions and the words they say,” said Derby, who watched as his 17-year-old friend scrawled “You are wonderful” on a concrete barrier separating the monument from the highway. traffic.
But despite the support, Robin’s mother, Kathy L., still worries that the nightclub shooting represents a new and more dangerous moment for Robin and other LGBTQ Americans. Especially outside of the country’s biggest cities, “it’s getting worse for gays because it’s gotten better for gays,” she said.
“Gay people have some rights now, and sometimes you might see a same-sex couple walking downtown where you never would have 20 years ago,” said Kathy, who has made several visits to the monument this week to restock on origami paper to make butterflies. “So someone who is hateful and fearful sees that and then decides to commit a hate crime.”
Ash Lowrance, a 23-year-old transgender man, echoed those concerns when they visited the memorial with his partner Alexis Mullins, who is 26 and identifies as queer.
Lowrance and Mullins moved to Colorado Springs two years ago from their conservative hometown in rural Illinois. Lowrance, who started testosterone treatment about six months ago, said the assault on Club Q left them wondering if they should continue with their transition.
“It scares me a little. I’m very early in my transition, and knowing that this happened is really hard to process,” Lowrance said. “A lot of young people come here because they realize how messy it all is.”
Padillo, the 21-year-old who told his parents he will decide his sexual orientation when he falls in love, said he also remains “scared” even though he found solace at the memorial. He believes the shooting will make it even more difficult for some young people to take their first steps in a gay bar.
“This just makes it look like you’re not wanted somewhere, and that can scare a lot of people away,” Padillo said, adding that he’s grateful to have a supportive family.
But after Krob spent about 30 minutes silently staring at the monument, the 20-year-old left feeling fine. He knew exactly what he was going to do when he got back to Denver.
“I’m going to go home and give my mom a big hug,” she said. “I didn’t take any photos here to show you, but what I saw will definitely stick with me and stay in my head for a long time.”
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