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Nearly three months ago, news of the mass shooting at Colorado Springs nightclub Club Q ricocheted through the nation, sparking a surge of discourse on anti-LGBTQ+ violence and the right-wing hate rhetoric that played a role in inciting the bias-motivated attack. At some point, though, after so many of these tragedies, the powder settles, the media frenzy quiets, and a deadly shooting fades from breaking news to history. It seems that, for many Americans, Club Q’s—followed by at least 106 other mass shootings nationwide since its occurrence on November 19, according to the Gun Violence Archive—has made that transition.
But many members of the Colorado LGBTQ+ community are not living in the “wake” of the tragedy that killed five and injured 18 as it spanned into the first few minutes of November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. For us, the traumatic effects of the event are still very much present.
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Josh Franklin and John Wolfe—husbands and co-owners of Icons in Colorado Springs, the only queer venue currently open in the city—are intimately familiar with the feeling. For them, even a benign event like a weekend phone call from their bar’s manager can cause anxiety because it reminds them of that night. “[The trauma] bubbles up when you don’t expect it,” Franklin says.
The shooting has caused enduring distress for many beyond its direct victims. Icons went into lockdown minutes after the shooting occurred; a community member came into the bar warning of the ongoing event, prompting employees to usher patrons out of the back. Icons remained closed for the rest of that Sunday and opened the following day. “[The shooter] had two options in town,” Franklin says. “It was just so challenging to look [our staff] in the eye and to hug them and to know that it easily could have been our space.”
Both former Broadway performers, Franklin and Wolfe opened Icons in late 2020 as a gay piano bar staffed with professional singers, positioning their business as a laidback complement to the booming music and technicolor lights of Club Q. Over two decades old, Club Q was Colorado Springs’ only gay bar or club for several years before Icons opened its doors. While various venues in the city—including Hide ‘n’ Seek, once the longest-standing gay bar in the western United States—shuttered between 2005 and 2018, Club Q stood strong. “It’s no doubt what an anchor that Club Q has been for Colorado Springs,” Wolfe says. Franklin, a Springs native, agrees, remembering his annual tradition of visiting Club Q with his high school friends when they all returned home for the holidays.
For Franklin and Wolfe, the emotional aftermath of the shooting among local community members has been challenging to experience. “[Customers] would be having fun and enjoying themselves, and then it would hit them and they were just sobbing. We had a staff person have an anxiety attack at work,” Wolfe says. Because the co-owners felt pressured to provide a space for the community to mourn after the event, they immediately focused their attention on reopening Icons. But that made their own emotional processing of the tragedy more difficult.
Since the shooting, Franklin and Wolfe have implemented changes to ensure patrons and their staff of around 12 people feel safe. The small establishment had never been subject to violence or aggression, so security was lax up until then. They’ve since hired a bouncer for weekends, installed new cameras, and closed off the open patio, which Franklin and Wolfe say they will upgrade to be enterable only through the bar’s interior. The stage where Icons’ employees perform is in a “fish bowl of glass” facing the street, so they are also installing bullet-resistant windows.
Icons is not alone in making these changes; numerous queer spaces in Denver have also ratcheted up security. In the weeks following the tragedy, Uptown’s X Bar implemented a metal detector search and a limit on bag sizes, alongside more rigorous bag checks. The Triangle Bar in Five Points doubled down on stricter door security as well as active shooter training for its staff, with Tracks in RiNo implementing similar policies.
Nevertheless, Franklin and Wolfe have felt an outpouring of support from the Colorado Springs community. The couple has noticed that more businesses now fly pride flags to signify that they are queer friendly. “It’s sad that it took such a horrible tragedy to have so much color downtown, but it is remarkable how much this city has come together,” says Franklin, noting that Colorado Springs’ reputation as a home to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations (including Focus on the Family, New Life Church, and the now-defunct Colorado for Family Values) is slowly changing. “Those of us who have been around for a while, I think, are daily baffled by the growth of Colorado Springs and encouraged by the amount of support that wasn’t there even five years ago.”
With Club Q still temporarily closed, the Icons owners hope to see more gay bars open in the Springs to form a proper queer neighborhood. The couple says they’re also looking to the upcoming mayoral election on April 4 as a sign of how inclusive local politics will be towards queer voices. Case in point: Mayoral candidate Yemi Mobolade contacted Icons to host a meet- and-greet there in late January—the first time, to Franklin and Wolfe’s knowledge, that a local candidate has worked with a gay venue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community. Franklin and Wolfe plan on hosting another event with Mobolade close to Election Day.
In the meantime, they are determined to focus on the positives, even in regards to how Club Q will go down in history. “The amount of lives that possibly were saved at Club Q just by having a place to go…” Franklin says, reflecting on the club’s legacy. “The change is here. We see it every day.”