‘My life should not be up for debate’

Michigan LGBTQ+ leaders respond to increase in attacks, violence after Colorado Springs shooting 

By: - November 21, 2022 3:38 pm

People hold a vigil at a makeshift memorial near the Club Q nightclub on November 20, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Yesterday, a 22-year-old gunman entered the LGBTQ nightclub and opened fire, killing at least five people and injuring 25 others before being stopped by club patrons. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

After five people were killed in a mass shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ club late Saturday night, many in the Michigan LGBTQ+ community around Michigan are concerned about their safety amid increasing hate crimes nationwide.

“I feel fear, anger, disgust, concern. Hearing the news, it was this overwhelming feeling of just, not again. We’ve already lost too many people to senseless violence,” said Jazz McKinney, the executive director of the Grand Rapids Pride Center.  

Just before midnight Saturday, a 22-year-old gunman entered Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, and opened fire, killing five people and injuring 25 others.

Grand Rapids Pride Center Executive Director Jazz McKinney | Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Pride Center

The next day, Sunday, was Transgender Day of Remembrance — a day to honor the memory of the transgender people who died to acts of anti-transgender violence.

“It made it even more sickening,” said Tracy Hall, executive director of OutFront Kalamazoo, one of Michigan’s largest LGBTQ+ community centers. “What makes me so angry about what happened at Club Q is that they had so many trans events planned over the weekend. … It feels like a double victimization for our community.”

McKinney said nightclubs and bars that identify as “LGBTQ+ safe havens” are vital to the LGBTQ+ communities.

“People need to feel psychologically, emotionally and physically safe in order to thrive. We can’t thrive in life when there’s constant attacks on LGBTQ lives, whether that’s physical, psychological or emotional,” McKinney said. “To have a safe space taken away from us when we already don’t have a lot of spaces, that takes a toll. That really can break down a community.”

In 2016, another mass shooting took lives at an LGBTQ+ bar in Orlando. The shooter killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at Pulse nightclub after proclaiming allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group.

“I am personally saddened and outraged,” said state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), who is the first bisexual lawmaker in Michigan and chairs the LGBTQ caucus. “But also as a lawmaker, I’m cognizant of the fact that we have work to do. I know this happened in Colorado, but these attacks are on the rise across the country. And it’s incumbent upon us to act.”

For years, hate and violent attacks targeting LGBTQ+ people have been rising nationwide and in Michigan.

According to a study by ACLED, an organization that collects data on political violence worldwide, anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization, including demonstrations, political violence and propaganda, increased by over four times from 2020 to 2021. Data indicate that 2022 is on track to be worse. By May 2022, incidents of political violence targeting the LGBTQ+ community had already exceeded the total number of attacks reported in 2021. 

President Joe Biden warned in May of “disturbing setbacks and rising hate and violence targeting LGBTQ+ people.”

The Human Rights Campaign said 2022 is one of the deadliest years for transgender people, with at least 32 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.  Two of those victims were from Michigan — Raymond Muscat, a 24-year-old white transgender man from Oakland County, and Naomie Skinner, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman from Highland Park.

Pohutsky named a number of efforts Democrats have been pushing to help put an end to violence against LGBTQ+ people, including common sense gun laws and banning the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense that is allowed to be used in court to claim a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity explains a loss of self-control or mental well being.

Pride under attack: LGBTQ+ events face uptick in right-wing threats, violence

Republicans in Michigan, largely led by failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, used this past election cycle to campaign on anti-LGBTQ+ attacks, like banning some LGBTQ+-related books in school libraries, prohibiting transgender students from playing on the sports team that aligns with their identity and barring conversations about gender identity and sexuality in the classroom. 

Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) used a fundraising email to accuse Democrats like state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) of being “groomers” who “sexualize” children because they defend supporting LGBTQ+ students in schools.

Hall said she is worried about the effect this rhetoric is having on LGBTQ+ youth.

“I’ve been out for most of my adult life and there were times where I would hear something Tudor Dixon said and it would keep me up at night thinking,” Hall said. “And if I’m struggling with the things she is saying, what about somebody who’s younger or who doesn’t have the community support that I have?”

McKinney said they want to lawmakers to stop using LGBTQ+ people as “political fodder.” 

“My life should not be up for debate,” they said. “My life should not be up for a bill or a ballot. It should not be that way.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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