When Violence is Inevitable: Club Q and the Success of the System

A memorial for those killed in the Club Q shooting (Kelly Loving, Derrick Rump, Ashley Paugh, Raymond Green Vance and Daniel Aston). Image: Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Thirty people in a queer club were shot with an AR-15 by a man with a prior criminal record. Thirty people in a queer club were shot with the Christian Right’s revered weapon as Transgender Day of Remembrance 2022 dawned over Colorado Springs. Thirty people in a queer club were shot with a long gun just minutes before Transgender Day of Remembrance and five of them died. 

We. Said. It. Would. Happen.

The Club Q shooting feels inevitable: the natural consequence of nearly-unrestricted access to large-capacity semi-automatic weaponry, fueled by months of disinformation and violence and years of anti-LGBT rhetoric, in a country bent on dismantling its meager social safety nets. To what other destinations could this road possibly have led than here: to mass death again? This road is paved with bomb threats against children’s hospitals, and bookstores set on fire, and Black women murdered, and children sacrificed for a war against bodily autonomy. 

There was never another possible outcome. Dave Chappelle. Chaya Raichik. Matt Walsh. Herschel Walker. Donald Trump. Doug Mastriano. Greg Abbott. Ron DeSantis. Brian Kemp. JK Rowling. Lauren Boebert. 

Why do we believe that anything else could have happened?

What systems have been built to allow a man with a prior criminal recorda record of threats of family violence, no lessto purchase or own a weapon that can kill so many people so quickly? What systems have been built to allow years of stochastic terrorism to proliferate throughout the internet? And what systems have been built to support mainstream media’s coverage of that terrorism as if the controversy were the news, and not the fact that information technology giants refuse to prohibit their users from generating and sharing false and deeply damaging disinformation?

What systems have been built so that thirty people in a queer club were shot with a long gun on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance? 

You may have noticed that I haven’t used the word “hate” yet. In fact, the only time I use “hate” is in this paragraph. That’s because the “hate” framework allows us to hide systemic oppression behind the inscrutable actions of individuals, of so-called “lone wolves.” It’s as inaccurate to use a framework of “hate” to describe a single person’s actions as it is to use a framework of “environmental friendliness” to describe a single person’s actions.

Both frameworks emphasize individualism over structure, private actions over systemic oppression. A single person can sooner stem the tide of climate change than they can create or destroy a system of oppression. Both frameworks allow people in power to direct attention away from themselves and the systems they’re building.  Climate change and systemic oppression are structural. They require structural solutions.     

So when exactly should Congress have restricted ownership of assault rifles? Perhaps when the assault rifle ban expired? After Columbine? Sandy Hook? Parkland? Las Vegas? Maybe after a man with a long gun killed 49 people in a queer club in Orlando, Florida six years ago. Maybe Congress could have acted then to make it more difficult to buy a weapon that can easily kill so many people. 

But they didn’t. And now five more people are dead and twenty-five more injured.

The system is working perfectly. And late 2022 is bearing the fruits of a violent summer and fall. 

Did you know that twice as many transgender people were murdered in 2021 than in 2019? 

Here’s another fact: Did you know that, contrary to right-wing fears about its ubiquity, fewer than three hundred total teenagers under 18 in the entire country accessed gender-affirming top surgery in the past year? There are approximately three hundred thousand transgender youth in the United States. It’s not just that anti-trans disinformation is factually incorrect, it’s that it’s often the exact opposite of the reality on the ground. To put it another way: there aren’t too many gender-affirming surgeries taking place, there are too few, given the number who don’t have access or the means to make it happen. There’s an epidemic of gatekeeping trans-related care in the United States, not to mention insurmountable financial barriers. But we don’t mention these issues, do we?  

I have a young daughter and we were supposed to celebrate our birthdays on Sunday. We were supposed to celebrate our birthdays together by painting pottery and taking a trip to Target. 

We did do those things, and we laughed and we held hands and she ate a cake pop and I watched for shooters. 

What the hell do we do?

In October 2022, two scholars from the Harvard Kennedy School published a paper recommending immediate responses to the threats against democracy in the United States in the event of an authoritarian takeover of the country in 2024. Written by Professor Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Zoe Marks, the Pro-Democracy paper recommends immediate investment into the development of alternative systems and structures in order to render authoritarian-captured structures irrelevant. Chenoweth and Marks point to  soviet-Poland’s underground schools created to maintain popular education during the occupation. 

Transgender and bisexual and queer people have been building alternative institutions for decades, centuries. It’s pro-democracy forces who should look to the success of queer networks of care for their inspiration. Look to the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, founded by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who housed homeless Black and brown queer and trans youth in New York City in the 70s, fed them, and taught them to read; look to For the Gworls, one of many networks of care launched in the 2020s to support Black trans women facing unbearable oppression and violence, who provide cash for their clients’ rent, health care, and travel assistance. 

Look to the Trans Latin@ Coalition; or the Trans Safety Network, a volunteer-run opposition-monitoring shop in the UK; or the health-care crowd-raisers who gather five dollars here and ten dollars there from other low-income queer and trans people in the hope of funding gender-affirming care that can cost tens of thousands; or to the patrons at Club Q who stood up to the shooter, disarmed and subdued him.

The networks are there. The evidence is there. The stories have been told. The conversations have been had. The bullets have been fired. And fired. And fired. And the loved ones have died. And died. And died. 

It is time. It’s time to invest into the systems queer people are designing for ourselves. Systems that will serve much broader communities if we’re on the path toward deeper authoritarianism. The violence isn’t on the horizon. The violence is here because it was called here by the Christian Right, by the right-wing media, by the conservative lawmakers and the militias. As the tentacles reach out for each of us in turn, we must be united in our resistance. It’s only through a united front, a united community of care, that we can fully resist.   

We are worthy of more. We are worthy of more than survival. And we are also worthy of survival.