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Morgantown LGBTQ Community Fears For Safety After Club Q Shooting

Rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements, are seen outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City.
NPR
Rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements, are seen outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City.

The shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs this past weekend was an all too familiar story for many in the LGBTQ community, and one that highlights local safety concerns.

Rev. Zac Morton of the First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown said the news out of Colorado this weekend was devastating — and exhausting.

“It has a certain level of familiarity to it, that we've been, not only through mass shootings before, but experiencing the fact that it's targeted at an LGBTQ group,” he said.

Morton, who counts many local LGBTQ community members as part of his congregation, sees the shooting, even two time zones away, as a harsh reminder that security is a constant concern.

“I worry that our local communities here, events from Pride, our local LGBTQ clubs and even our church could potentially be targeted,” Morton said. “Heaven forbid, in an act of gun violence, but there's a lot of other ways in which we can be targeted, too.”

BD Voss is a master’s student in geology at West Virginia University and the social media manager for the LGBTQ+ club on campus. This year, they chose to carpool with relatives to a family Thanksgiving gathering in Virginia because traveling in the same area was already uncomfortable for them.

“Now with the surge of hate crimes, and as someone who is very visibly not gender conforming, it’s very scary to think of going and pumping gas by myself on the way to go visit relatives,” Voss said.

They said since the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions, there has been a concerted effort on campus to build a community. There are talks to hold a vigil when students return to campus next week, but Voss acknowledges that things are going to be difficult moving forward.

“Treat your fellow students and fellow staff members and fellow faculty and people you interact with on a daily basis with compassion as much as you possibly can,” they said.

Brad Grimes is the program coordinator of the WVU LGBTQ+ Center. He said the security of staff and students has been a primary concern for his office for years, in no small part because of increased anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

“If you think that like last year alone in 2021, there were over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills and pieces of legislation passed,” Grimes said. “Then you see a headline, like the recent one this past weekend, it’s beyond political attacks and generalized attacks. People are dying just for who they are.”

Rev. Jenny Williams is the faith organizer at the ACLU of West Virginia. She said no place is immune to this type of violence.

“It’s just yet another assault on the daily freedoms of people because of how they identify, who they love, trying to feel comfortable in their own skin,” she said.

Williams said a lot of work needs to be done, both in the short and long-term, to create infrastructure to keep LGBTQ people safe.

“In West Virginia, we’re tied for last in the country and acceptance of queer people,” she said. “There's long term work that needs to be done in terms of legislation, in terms of changing the conversation and faith communities.“

The shooting occurred at midnight on Nov. 20, just as the National Transgender Day of Remembrance began. Morton said the day is meant to be about confronting and remembering the devaluation of human life through rhetoric and actions that left 36 trans people dead in 2021.

After Club Q, the number is now 38.

“Different groups of people are made to kind of live with this lingering anxiety and grief. They have to ask, ‘Am I in a safe space?’ We need to move towards a society where people have to do as little of that as possible. And that’s the only way it can get done is together.”

North Central/Morgantown Reporter, cschulz@wvpublic.org, 304-284-1497, @SchulzReports

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