But two days after a gunman stormed Club Q and killed five and wound 18 Padillo finally came by to reflect on – and mourn with – Colorado’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer communities.
“I wanted to see the memorial,” Padillo said, standing in front of a collection 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 also inspiring.”
As the nation mourns three mass shootings in the past two weeks, makeshift memorials have served as reminders of the nation’s enduring gun violence. But the tribute here has taken on a deeper meaning—it has become a space for LGBTQ teenagers and young adults to mourn, honor their community, and ask, “What now?”
For the LGBTQ community, the shooting in Colorado Springs meant “safety betrayed”
Some drove to Colorado Springs from as far away as Boulder, about 90 minutes north, just to stand in front of the memorial for a few minutes. Others came with their parents, reflecting a generational shift toward adults supporting their LGBTQ children. A few have stopped by several times over several days and said they can’t explain why they keep coming back.
“I’m trans and queer myself,” said a 15-year-old, who asked to be identified by his first name, Eliot, as they looked at the memorial with his 61-year-old grandmother. “As a secondary school child, it scares me that this can happen based on someone’s identity. … But it helps to be here.”
It was not lost on many young visitors that they were standing in front of a bar where they could not even legally drink. Still, many said they know what Club Q represents in this conservative society.
As soon as he heard about the shooting, Wyatt Krob, 20, knew he had to travel here from Denver, about an hour north. In January, after months of “putting all the pieces together,” Krob told his parents he was bisexual. He had planned to visit his father, “but I couldn’t wait for him to get off work,” he said.
Instead, Krob came alone. “I don’t quite get it,” he said. “I just felt called to go and experience it for myself.”
Krob, who attends Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., said the memorial’s combination of pain, 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, find other people who are grieving, and maybe also have a better understanding of myself,” he said. “I would say that for anyone who questions, or identifies as something other than straight, this definitely hits home in their soul.”
A few meters away stood Amber Cantorna wearing a sweater that said “Free mommy hugs”. Free Mom Hugs is a nationwide 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 younger adults — and many of their parents — have become more aware and supportive of issues involving sexual orientation and identity.
“You wouldn’t have seen this when I was growing 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 and farm communities, she knows many young adults still lack a supportive network.
Cantorna said she became suicidal and fled to Denver after her family ostracized her and even took away keys to their house when she told them in 2012 that she was gay. At the time, Cantorna’s father worked as a senior official at Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs-based Christian conservative advocacy group.
She moved back to Colorado Springs last year, but is still out of touch with her family.
Even in tragedy, Cantorna said, the Club Q memorial will become a place that helps members of the LGBTQ community feel less alone.
“A lot of queer people still live quite rural, isolated lives where they don’t have a community to support them,” she said. “These are people who may not have family or may not have a place to go on vacation this week.”
Barbara Poma, who owned the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where a gunman killed 49 people in 2016, said she’s not surprised so many younger Colorado Springs residents are choosing to mourn publicly at Club Q. The memorial in front of Pulse still draws hundreds of people per day to the closed premises.
“It surprises me to see the families and young people there, but it happens every day,” said Pomo, whose onePULSE Foundation is building a permanent monument to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub. “We have families that come to Orlando on vacation, but they still want to bring their kids to visit the memorial. … It’s a place of pilgrimage, and a place to bear witness and for people to face grief and have good conversations. »
“I hope people come here”
The number of younger Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than ever before. In February, Gallup found that 7 percent of Americans now identify this way, including 21 percent of American adults born between 1997 and 2003.
Speaking outside 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 them or want to hurt them.
On Wednesday morning, Layla Aronow brought her 12-year-old transgender son Kai to the memorial from their suburban Denver home. They placed flowers at the crosses to honor the victims, while Kai chalked the pavement with messages 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. “It was important to me, especially with a trans kid, to take him here and show him that for every monster that might come, it’s hundreds or thousands of others trying to do good.”
As Aronow and Kai took pictures of the lights and chalk writing which now sits along North Academy Boulevard, they got a first-hand lesson in how a community can help fight cruelty. A passenger in an SUV driving by the memorial rolled down the window and shouted an anti-gay slur at the crowd of mourners.
“This person clearly believes the word is going to hurt us, and wants the power to hurt us,” Kai replied. “And it just doesn’t hurt us when we’re together.”
Aronow swelled with pride.
“That’s 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 the collective grief in front of Club Q had inspired him, even though he had never been inside the venue.
Robin – who is 21 and asked to be identified only by his last initial because he worries about online harassment – said seeing so many other young LGBTQ people stand together this week proved they are “living the dreams of their ancestors ».
“I hope that people come here and they 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 attracted a steady stream of heterosexual teenagers and young adults. Many of them also believe that the memorial symbolizes how solidarity can arise from community sadness.
Ayden Derby, who is straight and a senior at a local high school, said it is still common for some LGBTQ students to be bullied or harassed. But as Derby, 18, looked at the memorial, he vowed to be a lifelong ally of the LGBTQ community.
“Things like this speak to people and definitely make them reconsider their actions and the words they say,” said Derby, who watched as his 17-year-old friend scrawled “You’re amazing” on a concrete barrier that separates the memorial from the freeway. traffic.
But despite the support, Robin’s mother Kathy L. still worries that the nightclub shooting represents a new, more dangerous time for Robin and other LGBTQ Americans. Especially outside the nation’s largest cities, “it’s getting worse for gay people because it’s gotten better for gay people,” she said.
“Gay people have a few rights now, and sometimes you can see a same-sex couple walking downtown where you never would have 20 years ago,” said Kathy, who visited the memorial several times this week to deliver origami paper to make butterflies. “So someone who is hateful and scared sees that, and then they decide 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 therapy about six months ago, said the attack on Club Q has left them wondering if they should continue with the transition.
“It kind of scares me. I’m very early in my transition and just knowing this happened is really hard to process,” Lowrance said. “A lot of young people come here because they realize how messed up all this 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,” though he found comfort in the memorial. He believes the shooting will make it even more difficult for some young men to take their first steps into a gay bar.
“This just makes it seem like you’re not wanted somewhere, and that can be intimidating to a lot of people,” said Padillo, who added that he’s thankful he has a supportive family.
But after Krob spent around 30 minutes staring quietly at the memorial, the 20-year-old left with a good feeling. He knew exactly what to do when he returned to Denver.
“I’m going to go home and give mommy a big hug,” he said. “I didn’t take any pictures here to show her, but what I saw will definitely stick with me and it’s going to stick in my head for a long time.”