Home Career Colorado Springs shooting sparks fear in California’s LGBT community

Colorado Springs shooting sparks fear in California’s LGBT community


After five people were gunned down at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Matthew Grigsby was thinking of the 501 Club.

It was the only gay bar in Reading, a Northern California city of 93,000 that, like Colorado Springs, deeply religious and conservative.

There, Grigsby felt comfortable holding hands or dancing with another man.

Club 501 closed this summer, leaving Grigsby and other LGBTQ people without a place to be themselves. The news from the Q club Colorado Springs had another shot inside.

“There’s no safe place anywhere,” Grigsby, 53, said, his voice shaking. “It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing. People will come for us.”

In California’s politically red areas — from the old logging towns of the North to the dusty farmlands of the Central Valley — the Colorado Springs massacre was another devastating reminder of how difficult and lonely it can be to be a queer in conservative America.

Ronnie Cassis raises a gay pride flag in front of the Tower Theater in Fresno.

(Thomas Ovalle / For The Times)

There are few, if any, gay bars or other LGBTQ-friendly places in the state’s more rural areas, where queer people say they live with a growing sense of foreboding.

“Reading is mostly conservative. Because of that, it obviously heightens our feelings,” said Roberta Mayberry, a spokeswoman the Wolfpack Cluba nonprofit organization for LGBTQ women in Shasta County.

The attack in Colorado Springs comes at a time when anti-LGBTQ hate speech – especially from Republican politicians and conservative experts — on the rise.

Like Club 501, Club Q was an LGBTQ haven. Colorado Springs is the home of megachurches and influential right-wing Christian groups like Focus on the Family, which popularized the term “family values” and fought against the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Officials have not released a possible motive for the shooting, but it is under investigation as a hate crime.

The lawyers said that the suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich, is non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. Aldrich this is a grandson California Assemblyman Randy Vopel (R-Santee).

For 12 years, Archer Lombardi owned the Chico the Maltese dive bar, which was known for its drag shows and burlesque acts, he was always afraid of violence.

“There was never a time when I didn’t have nightmares about someone coming in and opening fire on us,” said Lombardi, who is transgender.

Sometimes when he swept the sidewalk in front of the bar, people would yell anti-gay things from their pickup trucks, he said.

Lombardi closed Maltese in February after two years of economic pain during the COVID-19 pandemic. He bought a farm together with his partner. Other venues have started to host drag shows, but there are no other gay bars in or around Chico, where the state of California is located.

“Chica is a pretty cool city that’s generally supportive of the LGBTQ+ community,” Lombardi said. “It’s just that when you start coming out of Chico, things get too red and less gay-friendly.”

A man takes a selfie with a rainbow flag in front of a crowd

Susan Thornton Zahn takes a selfie with other Pride marchers in rural Susanville, California, in June 2022.

(Susan Thornton Zahn)

In rural California, being openly gay is an act of defiance, said Jacob Hibbits, a board member of the fledgling Lassen Pride Network, who lives in Susanville with his husband, Richard Colvin.

“We live a quiet life here,” Hibbits, 36, said. “Our home is a space where we can be ourselves, but walk out the door and you’d never know.”

The nearest gay bars are 85 miles away in Reno or a 3 1/2 hour drive south to Sacramento.

Hibbits said his husband is “more feminine” than he is — favoring fancy hats, low heels and a purse — but toned down his appearance in Susanville for his safety.

Still, Hibbits couldn’t resist getting him a cherry red Dooney & Bourke wallet last year. Colvin flaunts it proudly.

Two men are smiling and holding a mini rainbow flag

Jacob Hibbits and his husband Richard Colvin at a parade in rural Susanville, California in June 2022.

(Susan Thornton Zahn)

“He still takes his Dooney to Walmart just to throw it at them,” haters, “and I love him for it,” Hibbits said.

This summer, Hibbits helped organize a Pride parade in a Sassonville park just days after a rainbow flag was stolen from outside a local domestic violence center. Uniformed and undercover police officers were present.

After the shooting in Colorado, organizers are nervous about another setback. But now more than ever, it’s important to be visible, Hibbits said.

“We plan to have a drag queen. We are not going to be silent,” he said. “This is a queer community. If you go to us, we will come back to you.”

Brian Pott, a gay retired actor who appeared on “CSI: Miami,” “True Blood” and other TV shows, recalled the culture shock of returning to his hometown of Visalia in Tulare County in 2014.

Pot lived behind Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood for many years.

There were no LGBTQ bars in Visalia. He couldn’t find a therapist or doctor he trusted. There were some amazing businesses, but they weren’t flying rainbow flags.

“I’d like to go to Starbucks and Target because at least I’ll find amazing people who work there,” Pott said.

In 2016, he and a friend opened an LGBTQ center in Visalia called The Source. in a month the militant killed 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

There was such a dire need for a physical space with LGBTQ services in the San Joaquin Valley that Source quickly grew. It opened on a budget of $20,000. This year it had a budget of $2 million, 12 full-time employees and services for HIV patients, transgender people and youth.

Locally, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric typically spikes during election season, Pott said.

This fall, the Source’s teen event — a movie screening followed by a drag show — was moved from a Visalia theater to a less visible location after school board candidates exploded on social media and anti-LGBTQ comments became threatening.

But for the most part, Pott said, the city has been supportive.

A memorial sign with flowers and photos of people

Noah Reich, left, and David Maldonado set up a memorial with photos of the five shooting victims at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Tulare County Executive Amy Shuklian, the first lesbian on the council, said when she first ran for the Visalia City Council in 2005, her mother worried about her safety.

She received several comments about her having a “gay agenda.” But she’s as country as everyone else and feels at ease in Visalia, she said.

Shuklian grew up on the family farm on the border of Tulare and Kings counties. She has a concealed carry permit. She and her partner Mary have been together for over two decades.

She said she lived her life authentically and hopes it serves as an example to others.

When she saw the news from Colorado, she thought, “God, not again.”

In Shasta County, Carlos Zapata said he, too, “had a pit in his stomach” when he learned about Club Q.

Zapata is a controversial figure in Northern California vocal member local militia. He helped lead this year’s successful recall campaign for the county’s Republican supervisor, who was fired in particular for upholding state policies against COVID-19.

Zapata, a Marine Corps veteran, also owns the Palomino Room Bar and Restaurant in Red Bluff. He said people would probably be surprised that he is a supporter of LGBTQ rights. If anyone ever made a gay customer “feel uncomfortable about someone they love,” he would kick them out, he said.

“It’s a problem in rural America: There’s so many good things about it, but when it comes to attitudes toward gay people, we’re so far behind and we’re so far behind,” he said.

Grigsby, a Shasta County civil servant who was born and raised in Redding, said he never felt accepted in his hometown because he’s gay — except at the 501 Club, a tiny dive bar on a quiet alley.

“Once you crossed the threshold, you could hold hands, you could kiss your date, you could dance together, you could hug your friends,” he said. “You can exhale and sort of shut everything out.”

Recently, Grigsby went on a bowling date.

“We didn’t hold hands. We didn’t sit too close to each other,” he said. “You don’t invite inspection in this city. It might look good inside, but there might be someone outside waiting outside your car, and you need to know that.’

In that climate, many LGBTQ people are leaving rural and conservative areas, he said.

“But I’ll be damned if I’m kicked out of my town,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this place. I’m not broken.”

There is a reading Bethel Church Housewhich preaches that homosexuality is sinful and opposed the California bills in an effort to crack down on so-called conversion therapy that claims to “cure” people of the same sex.

Members of the megachurch would sometimes show up at the 501 Club, buy patrons drinks — then start talking to them about God, Grigsby said.

Club 501, whose owner could not be reached for comment, closed in June.

A few days later, a petition to recognize LGBTQ Pride Month was sent to the Shasta County Board of Supervisors.

Some public speakers have quoted scripture and said that LGBTQ people are seeking special privileges that straight people are not given.

A friend of a local gay couple killed in 1999 two white supremacist brothers asked leaders to “change the image of Shasta County as a hateful place.”

The motion failed.

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