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Before Club Q: A Brief History Of Attacks On LGBTQ+ Clubs

The recent attack on Colorado’s Club Q is another example of violence against the LGBTQ+ community in safe spaces…

By Christopher Turner

On Saturday November 19, 2022 a 22-year-old gunman entered an LGBTQ+ nightclub northeast of downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado, just before midnight and immediately opened fire, killing at five people and injuring 17 others, before patrons confronted and stopped him.

“Club Q is a safe haven for our LGBTQ citizens,” Colorado Springs Police Chief Adrian Vasquez said. “Every citizen has a right to feel safe and secure in our city, to go about our beautiful city without fear of being harmed or treated poorly.”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is no stranger to violence and because of this gay bars and clubs have often been considered sanctuaries. Sadly, sometimes those safe spaces have come under siege and the most recent attack is just one example of violence against the LGBTQ+ community in safe spaces. Here’s a brief history of violent attacks on gay clubs and bars in North America.

Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana
1973

On June 24, 1973 an arsonist set fire to the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans’ French Quarter, killing 32 people. The tragedy didn’t end after the fire, some churches in New Orleans refused to bury the victims and the arsonist was never caught.

“It was horrible,” Arthur Lambert, a firefighter who responded to the blaze, said in a video interview in 2013. “These people, they were literally roasted alive.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote in 2013 that the lounge was “not just any bar, but as a gay community hangout where locals could gather without fear of social persecution” at a time of intense anti-gay stigma.

The Aquarius Bathhouse in Montreal, Quebec
1975

On April 12, 1975, the Aquarius bathhouse on Crescent Street in Montreal was firebombed. The perpetrator (or perpetrators) were never found or arrested.

Three customers died that night, and two of them—found by the second-floor fire exit—were buried in Paupers’ Field in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery in anonymous graves, because their bodies were never identified or claimed by their families.

The Otherside Lounge in Atlanta, Georgia
1997

On February 21, 1997 Eric Rudolph set off a nail-laden explosive device at the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta. The predominantly lesbian bar was crowded with about 150 people when the device went off on a rear patio leaving five people wounded. A second, unexploded, bomb was later found outside.

The Otherside Lounge was one of four attacks committed by Rudolph, who was a well-known right-wing extremist. He also bombed two abortion clinics and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where one person died and 111 more were injured. He was finally sentenced to life in prison in 2005. Rudolph (who has a gay brother) said in a statement during his sentencing that he did not mind homosexuality that remained private. But he said any attempt to “drag this practice out of the closet” and have society accept it “should be ruthlessly opposed.”

Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke, Virginia
2000

On September 22, 2000 53-year-old Ronald Edward Gay opened fire in the Backstreet Cafe in Roanoke, Virginia after he saw two men inside of the bar hug each other. 43-year-old Danny Overstreet was killed that night and six others were injured.

Mr. Gay told the police he was on a mission to kill gay people because he didn’t like the teasing that he had endured about his last name throughout his life. He was sentenced to four life terms in 2001.

Robert’s Lafitte Bar in Galveston, Texas
2009

On March 1, 2009 three men hurled chunks of concrete at patrons of Robert’s Lafitte Bar, in Galveston, Texas. One suspect held open the bar door while the other two hurled in pieces of rock and concrete. One of the victims, Marc Bosaw, required 12 staples to close a laceration to the back of his head, while another victim, James Troy Nickelson, was struck in the jaw.

In March 2010, Alejandro Sam Gray pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twenty years in prison for two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. His co-conspirator Lawrence Henry Lewis pleaded guilty and received a five-year sentence. Lawrence testified against his brother Lawrneil Henry Lewis, who got off.

Neighbours Nightclub in Seattle, Washington
2014

On January 1, 2014, about 15 minutes after midnight 30-year-old Musab Mohammed Masmari poured gasoline in the stairway of Neighbours Nightclub in Seattle and set it on fire. There where about 750 people inside the decades-old gay nightclub celebrating New Years Eve at the time. The fire was extinguished and fortunately there were no injuries. 

According to court documents Masmari had told an assistant U.S. attorney that he “burned a gay club” and that he did it because ‘what these people are doing is wrong.” In July 2014, Masmari plead guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison on federal arson charges. 

Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida
2016

On June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen open fired at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, one of the city’s best-known gay clubs. His actions claimed 49 victims’ lives, before the gunman’s death, and sent another 53 to the hospital.

The shooting occurred at 2:02am, according to an FBI timeline, towards the end of one of the club’s popular Latin nights, with bachata, merengue and salsa music pumping from the speakers. The haunting details are endless, but what we will always remember is that this was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States history and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11.

The National Pulse Memorial and Museum is a planned memorial and museum commemorating victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting, originally planned to open in 2022.

Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado
2022

On Saturday November 19 a 22-year-old gunman identified as Anderson Lee Aldrich walked into Club Q in Colorado Springs and opened fire on dancing patrons, killing five people and wounding 17 others before he was stopped by two clubgoers, a father and a drag performer. The gunman, who is now in custody, carried a rifle and a handgun. The suspect is in custody. Police have identified the deceased victims as Daniel Aston, Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Derrick Rump.

In a statement on social media, Club Q said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community” and thanked “the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”

*These are just some of the attacks on LGBTQ+ spaces that have been reported in recent history. Many are not, making hate crime statistics notoriously unreliable.

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