LGBTQ choir in Colorado Springs unifies community with song

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Beneath the vaulted dome and dark wooden beams of a church in Colorado SpringsA gay men’s choir rehearsed for a concert that took on new meaning after an LGBTQ nightclub became the site of a shooting that killed five and wounded 17.

“There is no peace on earth, I said,” sang the chorus. “Because hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth.”

The old lyrics echoing through the halls of the First Congregational Church were haunted by new memories of the November 21 violence at Club Q: the sound of shouting over the club’s music, the sight of gunshot wounds covered with napkins and people pleading with their friends. to keep breathing.

In the 13 days since the shooting, the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community has worked to recover and move on. Club Q patrons, both those who survived the riot and regulars who weren’t there last Saturday, organized donation drives for the families of the victims, leaned on affirming queer clergy, and renewed their commitments to the spaces and LGBTQ organizations, including Out Loud. Colorado Springs Men’s Chorus.

Gay and lesbian choirs like Out Loud grew out of the 1978 murder of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and have remained steadfast pillars of the LGBTQ community from the AIDS crisis to mass shootings like the one at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. in 2016.

In Colorado Springs, the members of Out Loud prepared for three sold-out concerts, their first performances since the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cancel shows. The rehearsals brought laughter and sometimes watery eyes, raised chins, and defiantly forward heads. They’re sending a clear message: “We’re saying we’re still here,” said Marius Nielsen, a transgender man who sang from the front row at a Wednesday night rehearsal.

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In a practice session, Nielsen collapsed while singing. He said that he felt the growing strength of those around him through the music.

“Everyone has you, even if you falter,” he said.

The solemn notes of the concert marked a mostly joyous event in which talented singers performed medleys of Christmas carols, some more extravagant than others. Choir members dressed as the three kings in robes, but with neon feather scarves, and struck go-go poses. Another performer wearing Claus-style shorts swooned over Santa.

“We will grieve, we will feel anger and sadness, and in the midst of that we will feel joy and hope,” said Bill Loper, the concert’s artistic director.

Standing three rows behind Nielsen, Rod Gilmore said the choir kept him going. With violent memories still fresh, Gilmore, a survivor of the Club Q shooting, said she would have re-entered the closet she left last year at age 55 if it hadn’t been for those standing by her side at church.

“It’s given me comfort and a comfortable feeling that relaxes me and makes me feel like I’m a whole of something, not just a part,” Gilmore said.

Colorado Springs residents are working to spread that feeling of togetherness throughout the city. Matthew Haynes, co-owner of Club Q, is looking to redevelop and install a garden and memorial to celebrate lives lost. A friend cooked a vegan casserole for the owners. A Las Vegas resident drove to Colorado Springs to play a piano attached to the bed of his red Toyota pickup.

“There is no playbook for this,” said Haynes, who started a GoFundMe page committed to “bringing Club Q back as the safe space for Colorado Springs.” His first goal is to ensure that survivors and mourners receive support.

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At a memorial on Wednesday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis paid his respects in front of a row of stacked flowers and looked at the photos of the lost. In 2018, Polis became first openly gay man elected governor In the USA

A retired teacher who worked near Columbine High School during the 1999 mass shooting left flowers next to a stuffed pink flamingo and said he was concerned that these tragedies have become so common that people have become desensitized.

Amid vigils, marches and shows of support on social media, Aaron Cornelius is among those in Colorado Springs demanding that the tragedy be mourned and remembered.

“We’re not leaving,” Cornelius told a large audience Tuesday night at Lulu’s Downstairs, a west Colorado Springs bar that held a silent auction featuring poets, speakers and musicians. “This community is much stronger than you think. They think we are vulnerable; They think we’re weak.”

On stage, they oscillated between fierce calls to action to fight the status quo and kinder messages advocating love over hate.

The faces of the audience members lit up with candlelight as they chanted, “I am valid. I deserve to be safe. I can be afraid, but bravery is going out and living in the face of fear. I am brave. I am brave.”

During the auction, a pastor who describes herself as an “older lesbian” perused personalized wine bottles labeled with Club Q and the date of the massacre, as well as gift cards for haircuts and a dog bandana that read: “I love my parents”. .”

Wyatt Kent, a drag queen who performed at Club Q the night of the shooting, read poems and anecdotes written by her partner, Daniel Aston, who was killed while working behind the bar.

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In one anecdote, Aston, who was a transgender man, wrote about moving to Colorado Springs from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and how he had become himself: “I’m less of a doormat, I’m more assertive, I have a bartending job that I love it. I don’t want to die anymore.”

Kent then read one of Aston’s poems, which Kent described as Aston helping the community move forward: “Some things never make any sense, like salmon down the river, like sweat rolling down your sleeve. That’s how these things work.”

“All of that is part of the healing: the laughter, the crying, all of that. And then just be together. After something like this, you naturally want to be with a human,” said event organizer Kittie Kilner.

That mix of pride and anger, laughter and tears, is what Out Loud is looking for in their upcoming Christmas concerts.

“Music is magical,” said choir member Josh Campbell. “We’re not talking to each other, but… we connect on an emotional level.”

The small audience felt that magic in rehearsal as the choir progressed through “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a Christmas carol based on a Civil War-era poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about his wounded son.

His despair dissipated as the music neared resolution: “Then the bells rang louder and deeper: God is not dead, nor sleeps. Evil will fail… good will prevail with peace on earth.”


AP writer Sam Metz contributed from Salt Lake City. Jesse Bedayn is a staff member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on covert issues.