So many people thronged to All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday to mourn the dead and injured in Saturday night’s mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub that the church repeated the services three times, to let those standing outside crying, hugging and still in shock come inside to hear words of encouragement and hope.
Seated in the front row of the church during the first service were the Colorado Springs mayor, City Council members, state lawmakers and founders of local organizations that serve the LGBTQ community.
That wouldn’t have been the case just two decades ago when Club Q opened, noted Carolyn Cathey, an activist of 40 years.
“We have activists who have been in the trenches; it is belly to belly with open hearts, with honesty and integrity, that brought to the table the leaders of Colorado Springs, and that’s no small feat,” she said. “We will not be moved.”
All Souls was one of several services in which community members across the city gathered to mourn and honor the victims, whose names had yet to be officially released by the El Paso County coroner on Sunday.
The Sunday service at Pikes Peak Metropolitan Church, a bastion for the LGBTQ+ faith community, altered its plans in light of the shooting. Pastor Alycia Erickson was prepared for a “celebration Sunday” honoring the church’s journey and path forward. Instead, she said, it was honoring dozens of victims in a local shooting.
“Gay clubs have long been a sanctuary for those of us in our community, a place for us to go where we can be ourselves, where we can be out within the walls of that club or that bar. And for so many who have been kicked out of their communities of faith, kicked out of their families, gay clubs, Club Q, have been like a faith community for our community,” Erickson said.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community often experience alienation from their families or churches due to their sexual orientation. Started in 1979, Pikes Peak Metropolitan Community Church swam against that current, offering instead a place of worship for people of all backgrounds without feelings of guilt, judgment or shame.
But those feelings persist in the broader community.
“It’s hard not to believe that it’s not coming from a place of hate,” Erickson said of the shooting. “We know what it’s like to walk through the world, those of us who are a part of LGBTQ community, to walk into workplaces, to walk into schools, to walk into grocery stores, to walk down the street and know that we can be a target ... and that fear of violence is always there.”
Gov. Jared Polis and his husband, Marlon Reis, spoke via video at All Souls, as Polis recovers from a bout with COVID-19. Reis said the attack wasn’t just on a nightclub but on the values that the LGBTQ+ community holds dear. The shooting began minutes before the start of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is observed every year on Nov. 20 to remember those whose lives were cut short to transphobia.
“It was an attack on freedom,” he said. “We must refuse to let it define us and keep us from being ourselves.”
Freedom also was on the mind of Sam Waller, a board member at High Plains Unitarian Universalist Church, who was among the hundreds of people in the crowd outside All Souls.
Waller, a retired Army veteran, said he didn’t know any of the victims that were hurt or injured — people he knows who frequent Club Q are safe — but he wanted to show solidarity.
“It’s a military community, and I feel it’s important to note people need to embrace liberty and justice for all as an inherent right for all individuals,” he said.
Polis recognized patrons who overcame the lone gunman. Their efforts testified to his belief that evil will never win over love and kindness.
“A few brave individuals put their lives on the line, heroically responding,” he said. “More people are alive today because of the heroic actions of several club attendees taking on the attacker.”
"The foundation has been shaken,” he continued, “but it has not been broken.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Colorado Springs police initially reported early Sunday that five people had died and 18 were wounded, then changed it to five dead and another 25 wounded. On Monday, a joint operation between police and the city of Colorado Springs corrected the totals to five fatalities, and 17 people sustained gunshot wounds, another person injured in another manner and one victim with no visible injuries but considered a victim, according to city spokesman Max D'Onofrio. The situation was very chaotic on Sunday, D'Onofrio said, which led to the change in numbers. The suspect also was wounded and remains in police custody in a local hospital. He brings the total to 25 people impacted.