Colorado Springs reckons with past after gay club shooting

November 26, 2022 10:15 am

[Source: AP News]

When officials unfurled a 25-foot rainbow flag in front of Colorado Springs City Hall this week, people gathered to mourn the victims of a mass shooting at a popular gay club couldn’t help but reflect on how such a display of support would have been unthinkable just days earlier.

With a growing and diversifying population, the city nestled at the foothills of the Rockies is a patchwork of disparate social and cultural fabrics. It’s a place full of art shops and breweries; megachurches and military bases; a liberal arts college and the Air Force Academy. For years it’s marketed itself as an outdoorsy boomtown with a population set to top Denver’s by 2050.

But last weekend’s shooting has raised uneasy questions about the lasting legacy of cultural conflicts that caught fire decades ago and gave Colorado Springs a reputation as a cauldron of religion-infused conservatism, where LGBTQ people didn’t fit in with the most vocal community leaders’ idea of family values.

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Five people were killed in the attack last weekend. Eight victims remained hospitalized Friday, officials said.

In recent decades the population has almost doubled to 480,000 people. More than one-third of residents are nonwhite — twice as many as in 1980. The median age is 35. Politics here lean more conservative than in comparable-size cities. City council debates revolve around issues familiar throughout the Mountain West, such as water, housing and the threat of wildfires.

Residents take pride in describing Colorado Springs as a place defined by reinvention. In the early 20th century, newcomers sought to establish a resort town in the shadow of Pikes Peak. In the 1940s, military bases arrived. In the 1990s it became known as a home base for evangelical nonprofits and Christian ministries including the broadcast ministry Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys.

The idea of latching onto a city with a bright future is part of what drew Michael Anderson, a bartender at Club Q who survived last weekend’s shooting, to move here.

Two friends, Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston, helped him land the job at Club Q and find his “queer family” in his new hometown. It was more welcoming than the rural part of Florida where he grew up.

Still, he noted signs that the city was more culturally conservative than others of similar size and much of Colorado: “Colorado Springs is kind of an outlier,” he said.

Now he’s grieving the loss of Rump and Aston, both of whom were slain in the club shooting.