Club Q was the perfect queer gathering space in Colorado Springs because it catered to all vibes of the night. There was a bar area if you wanted to sit and socialize, a busy dance floor, a competitive pool tables section, and an outdoor patio.
The venue stood as a pillar of LGBTQ+ resilience and celebration despite the nearby evangelical, alt-right, and military presence; it was a de facto community center.
Matthew Haynes and Nic Grzecka opened the nightclub in 2002, where it became the only safe space many queer people had for over 70 miles. In 2020, amid nationwide bar shutdowns, Club Q was announced as the town’s last remaining gay bar.
Michael Anderson, one of the venue’s former bartenders, tells GayCities it might sound cliché, but it was quite literally the only place many individuals had to be themselves and find each other.
The bartender used to host karaoke nights and rally the crowd with his rendition of Genie in a Bottle by Christina Aguilera.
On November 19, 2022, the night a 22-year-old gunman entered Club Q, Anderson says he was pouring a drink when he felt the gunfire. He ducked under the bar but managed to see the killer’s shadow fifteen feet away at the door frame. Glass shattered all around him from the shooter’s bullets that hit bottles inches away.
“I was the only bartender that didn’t get killed that night,” says Michael Anderson. “When I came out of hiding, I saw them [two patrons at the bar] take [the gunman] down and beat him up.”
He says the massacre stopped a minute after it started, and after five minutes, police were at the scene. So in about 60 seconds, one person with an AR-15 style rifle shot five people dead: two bartenders on shift, a trans woman, a man, and a woman there injuring over 20 others.
The body count would’ve been much higher had army veteran Richard M. Fierro not been at Club Q to watch a drag show with his wife and kids. He charged across the bar and tackled the shooter to the ground, causing him to drop his rifle. A trans woman helped Fierro by stomping on the attacker with her heels.
Unfortunately, that trans woman was misidentified as a drag queen in various media outlets.
The suspect faces more than 300 counts, including first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault, and hate crimes.
Owner Grzecka told the press he blamed the political rhetoric villanizing the LGBTQ+ community, particularly drag queens and trans people. “It’s different to walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand and getting spit at (as opposed to) a politician relating a drag queen to a groomer of their children,” Grzecka said. “I would rather be spit on in the street than the hate get as bad as where we are today.”
According to Anderson, the club’s owners had media at their doorsteps for answers to what took place. He says they reached out to Pulse’s Barbara Poma for guidance moving forward – the world had looked to her for direction during the second-largest shooting in American history.
Colorado Springs, CO: Club Q announces partnership with architecture firm to create plans for renovation as well as creating a permanent standing tribute outside of the club to honor the victims of the Nov. 19th, 2022 shooting as well as those affected by the attack. #clubq pic.twitter.com/7797djm5mv— Club Q Official (@ClubQColorado) January 29, 2023
Poma told GayCities she had immediately decided against reopening Pulse the minute she entered the venue post-shooting with the FBI. The club she knew was gone and the massacre lingered. Instead, she launched the onePULSE Foundation and turned the site into a permanent memorial, signed by President Joe Biden.
In February 2023, Club Q owners announced a comeback. Anderson, who now works as VP of Operations, says it will rise as a completely new establishment carrying the same name and legacy, including a commemoration of the victims. The club’s new face aside, it has always served as a vehicle for community activism.
Club Q was a safe space, built over two decades, where everyone belonged. It was a second home for many in the community.— Michael Bennet (@SenatorBennet) December 5, 2022
Yesterday, I visited the Club Q memorial in Colorado Springs to pay my respects to the victims and survivors of this horrific attack. pic.twitter.com/OUEIidzOa3
Unfortunately, the unyielding number of mass shootings makes club owners ask themselves how their spaces would fare. As politicians fail to make gun reform, how can business owners enhance safety for every patron inside their businesses?
“We hope that Club Q can serve as a model for queer spaces all across America and provide a guidebook on how to do that,” says Anderson.
Queerness has historically existed in danger – and in happiness despite it. For Colorado Springs, Club Q’s return is not only about refusing to let hate win but keeping love alive and within reach.