James Slaugh barely lifted his right arm when he swore to tell the truth Wednesday morning. He’d been shot in the Club Q attack, and his left hand helped prop up his right as he prepared to testify about the anti-LGBT rhetoric that had proliferated before the shooting.
“Club Q was a second home and safe space. Not just for me, but for all us,” Slaugh, who wore a rainbow tie and Club Q button, told a largely empty congressional committee room in Washington, D.C. “Outside of these spaces, we are continually being dehumanized, marginalized and targeted.”
He recounted how his mother had learned to accept his sexuality, how the shooting was his worst nightmare and how he believed that growing anti-LGBT rhetoric had fueled it. He was joined by Michael Anderson, a Club Q bartender who described praying as he waited to die that night, and the club’s co-owner, Matthew Haynes, who reiterated his pledge to rebuild. The group told the House’s Committee on Oversight and Reform that they had hope and determination but that the shooting — which left five dead and 18 injured — didn’t happen in a vacuum.
The hearing — focused on the rise of anti-LGBT violence and extremism in the United States — came a day after President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which protects same-sex and interracial unions. Haynes attended the signing ceremony and told the committee it was the first joy he’s experienced since the shooting.
But he noted that more than 150 House members had voted against the bill and questioned what those leaders were doing to help.
“So I ask you today not simply what are you doing to safeguard LGBT Americans but rather what are you or other leaders doing to make America unsafe for LGBTQ people?” he asked.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat and the committee’s chair, read the names of the five killed in the shooting into the record, as U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet did in late November. Maloney described other anti-LGBT incidents, including demonstrations at a Florida drag performance and the recent arrest of a New York man accused of repeatedly throwing bricks through a gay bar’s window.
She described those incidents, and the Club Q shooting, as the “culmination of years of anti-LGBTQ extremism that began in statehouses across the country and spread to social media platforms before boiling over in the communities where we reside.” Maloney accused Republican state-level lawmakers and governments of promoting anti-LGBT legislation. She said more than 340 such bills were introduced across the country in recent legislative sessions.
Few lawmakers were in attendance for the Club Q testimony. One member who was there was the committee’s ranking Republican, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky. Comer — who voted against the marriage equality bill — offered his thoughts and prayers to the Coloradans. But he said Democrats were making political hay out of the tragedy and accused them of enacting soft-of-crime policies that contributed to violence nationwide.
While the hearing and testimony largely focused on anti-LGBT rhetoric, Anderson praised President Joe Biden’s recent work to pass a federal assault weapons ban. Anderson said he was embarrassed and disgusted about America’s reputation for mass shootings.
“Many in our government say nothing can be done (and) this epidemic of violence is just the price we must pay for freedom in this country. That is a lie,” he said. “The facts speak for themselves, and your denial of this gun violence reality is not a policy proposal.”
He encouraged other LGBT community members to live “prouder and louder than ever before.”
“To the children watching this, feeling like you may not be like the other kids, I understand and see you,” Anderson said. “You deserve to be exactly who you are, no matter what anyone else has to say.”
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