Elizabeth Pixie is angry.
She’s angry that her friend Daniel Aston died in a shooting at Club Q. She’s angry that she had to move to Colorado from Texas because she felt unsafe as a trans woman there. And she’s angry with people who have spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online — some for years — leading up to the shooting.
“They can call it religion, they can call it politics, they can call it saving people,” Pixie, who lives in Colorado Springs, said. “Whatever fluff or s--- they want to sprinkle on it, they can do that, but at the end of the day, these people are murderers.”
Late Saturday, a suspected shooter entered the LGBTQ club and opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle, killing Aston and four other people and injuring at least 19 others. The suspect was apprehended by police after being injured in the attack and is in the hospital. While authorities have not shared a motive, the suspect is facing five counts of first-degree murder and bias-motivated or hate crimes.
Pixie isn’t alone in her fury. While contending with heartbreak, other Colorado Springs locals and national activists also described being angry, and they attribute that rage to the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills proposed by conservative representatives in dozens of states, a rise in anti-trans violence and a failure by some of the media to accurately report on it all.
“I keep going back and forth between a level of devastation, sorrow and loss to a level of anger,” Pixie, 30, said.
James Davis, who lived in Colorado Springs for most of his life, said he feels an “all too familiar, incredible injustice of this being predictable.” In 2016, after 49 people were killed at Pulse nightclub, a gay club in Orlando, Florida, Davis said he felt sad and shut down, but after hearing about Club Q, he was “just pissed off.”
“This is cause and effect,” he said. “There’s so much dog-whistling and scripting for the people who need it — to go out, get the gun, work their way into the space, and do this thing that they know they’re going to be the mass shooter, they’re going to be in the news.”
Davis wrote a poem about Club Q in 2019 that has been widely shared across social media since the shooting. He said the club “doesn’t deserve this.”
“It only deserves to serve the people who are stuck in Colorado Springs for whatever reason, and trying to live authentic lives and just have somewhere to hang out and feel normal,” he said. “And someone decided that that was too much, too much for the people who work there and the people who enjoy going there.”
Pixie, who wasn’t at the club that night, still described her friend in the present tense on Monday, calling him an “absolute sweetheart.”
She recalled the first time she met Aston, a bartender at Club Q, he said, “You are absolutely the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. What can I get you?”
“He was so gender affirming in every way,” Pixie said. “He always made sure that, even if you didn’t feel valid or beautiful, when you walked in there, he made sure that you knew that you matter.”
Aston invited her to perform at the club, which she did for about four months. He also once stuck up for her and protected her from a customer who made a transphobic comment, she said.
Pixie, who worked in a pharmacy, said she left Texas also because the state began investigating parents who provide gender-affirming care to minors. She didn’t want to be forced to turn in any of her minor customers.
She specifically named the social media account Libs of TikTok, which has 1.5 million followers on Twitter, saying it is responsible for spreading hate. The account shares photos and videos of teachers and drag performers, among others, who are LGBTQ or advocating for inclusivity and falsely labels them as sexually grooming children.
The owner of the account did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
On Monday, Parker Grey, who has lived in Colorado Springs for about five years and used to go to Club Q regularly because he lived next door, said that locals were gathering outside of the club to mourn, but that he could feel tension as a result of the heavy media presence.
“It was not a great atmosphere, just because a lot of the news and media were speaking very loudly about the best shot to get, where they could stand, and meanwhile, there’s our community members, just kind of standing there staring at this building that we’ve been to hundreds of times and we drive by every week,” he said Monday. “It felt like there was an angry air and a sad air.”
Grey said that he stopped going to Club Q about a year and a half ago because the local climate felt increasingly unsafe due to both the national rhetoric surrounding LGBTQ people and the fact that Colorado Springs — unlike Denver, just an hour to the north — is more conservative. He said the only reason he felt safe was because he could hide his identity as a trans man.
Kelley Robinson, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said during a news conference Monday that many LGBTQ people feel unsafe in their communities nationwide, and that the fear “didn’t come out of nowhere.” She noted that the shooting also fell on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual observance to honor the memory of transgender homicide victims that began in 1999, and that Club Q had planned to honor the day with an all-ages drag show on Sunday.
“In the 10 years we’ve been tracking fatal violence against trans and nonbinary people, we recorded over 300 deaths — 2021 being the deadliest year on record for trans lives,” Robinson said. “And we know that some of the victims at Club Q also identified as trans.”
Robinson called violence against LGBTQ people a crisis that “has not happened in a vacuum.”
“The violence we’re seeing is directly linked to anti-LGBTQ extremism,” she said. “In the past year, we’ve seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills move forward in the States, and some of those same politicians are behind the attacks that we’re seeing at the state level, they’re using their platforms to call us ‘predators’ and ‘groomers.’ Meanwhile, sending thoughts and prayers and pretending like they played no part in this tragedy.”
Erin Reed, a trans activist and legislative researcher based in Maryland, said that anyone who has been active in the LGBTQ community knows that the risk of violence has been building nationally for months.
She mentioned a bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital in August, which occurred after Libs of TikTok and other conservative social media accounts claimed without evidence that the hospital provides gender-affirming hysterectomies to children younger than 18, NBC reported at the time. The hospital denied the claims.
“We’ve all said that these people are going to get somebody killed because of the language that they’re using and because of the actions that they’re taking,” Reed said.
Pixie believes that Aston is now a victim of that violence.
She said that one of the things she’s going to miss most about him are his hugs. Pixie said that once when Aston finished a shift at the club, he told her it had been a rough night, so she wrapped him in a tight hug.
“And he just let out this deep sigh, like that sigh where you know you’ve given someone a really good hug,” she said.