Survivors of the Club Q tragedy say they are still waiting to receive money that was fundraised on their behalf, criticizing national LGBTQ organizations for using the shooting for their own financial gain.
After a gunman attacked the gay club on November 19th, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, national LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign released statements in mourning of the victims — Raymond Green Vance, Kelly Loving, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump and Ashley Paugh — and directed supporters of the survivors to donate to the Colorado Healing Fund (CHF) and One Colorado.
“GLAAD used this event in a way to attract media attention and resources and legitimacy for their organization, but in reality most [survivors] never talked to GLAAD or got to interact with them,” according to Z Williams, Co-founder of Bread and Roses Legal Center, which prides itself on having supported and continuing to support victims of the Club Q shooting with the organization’s survivor-led healing and mutual aid model. Williams told Truthout that GLAAD “picked a group of people that were supposed to be the representatives of the community, and it was three white men.”
In December, GLAAD invited survivors of the shooting, James Slaugh and Michael Anderson, and the owner of Club Q, Matthew Haynes, all white men, to provide testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, extremism and violence.
Advocates have also stressed that CHF, a nonprofit that provides funds to victims of mass casualty crimes in Colorado, retains 10 percent of all funds donated for those impacted by mass casualty events in the state. While this policy has been reversed after advocates criticized the fundraising model as unethical, with 100 percent of proceeds supposedly now going directly to the victims of the Club Q mass shooting, one survivor told Truthout that the process to access funds was very difficult to navigate.
“That is an organization that I have seen constantly re-victimize people because of their model and especially, I think, in this setting we saw it even more because of the size of the group of victims, the age of the group of victims and just the complete unfamiliarity with what it means to work with queer folks,” Williams explained.
VictimsFirst, a network of surviving victims of mass casualty crimes that advocates for accountability for survivors, sent CHF an open letter in December criticizing the fund for its lack of transparency and predatory model.
“We are sick of the gaslighting and attempts by the Colorado Healing Fund to cover its tracks. First, the Colorado Healing Fund diverted donations away from mass shooting victims. Now they are diverting attention away from the facts as they continue to divert donations to nonprofits under the guise of ‘victim services’ without any transparency about where those donations are headed,” the letter reads.
In addition, advocates have also alleged that CHF and the other groups that fundraised in the aftermath of the Club Q shooting were not well versed in how to support the LGBTQ community.
“There just was a lot of lack of understanding around pronouns and names and relationships and so many of those things that I think are so important when you’re working with queer community,” said Williams. At one point, CHF asked Bread and Roses Legal Center if binders, a piece of clothing commonly worn by transmasculine people, could be purchased at Home Depot, according to Williams.
Bread and Roses Legal Center advocates for survivor-led mutual aid predicated on a queer solidarity approach which rejects charity models that “raise a bunch of money and give it out to people,” as Williams stated, or come into the community with a plan and use media generated from events for an organization’s own gain.
“Mutual Aid is saying, we respond to this event because also like taking care of our community is like taking care of us,” Williams explains. “Even if we didn’t know these folks like these are our family and our community. And another piece of it is not just thinking about mutual aid like how do we respond to an event, but what is the long-term investment in a community and what is the relationship with the community?”
Survivor-lead mutual aid models are increasingly important as mass shooting incidents continue to skyrocket — 2022 was the worst year for school shootings and this year we are seeing a record-setting number of mass killings. NPR reports that so far this year, more than 88 people were killed in 17 mass shootings. While there is no national database that tracks the number of survivors of mass shootings or the financial toll of surviving a mass shooting, research estimates that just the cost of initial hospital charges for patients injured in mass shootings total more than $64,900 per person.
The long-term physical and psychological costs of surviving mass shootings is undoubtedly higher. The National Center for PTSD estimates that a third of people who have survived a mass shooting develop an acute stress disorder and 28 percent of people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, survivors of hate crimes experience high levels of psychological distress that may exacerbate the financial costs of healing after a hate-crime motivated mass shooting.
Bread and Roses Legal Center recently hosted its second mutual aid event for survivors of the shooting, in which multiple family members of victims of the shooting were present. At the first Queers for Q event, Bread and Roses raised over $140,000 which were entirely distributed to more than 50 people who were impacted by the shooting. Survivors have used these funds to obtain groceries, medical prescriptions, legal name and gender-marker changes, glasses, gender-affirming health care, transportation, rent and job training. Funds will also cover a headstone for one of the victims of the shooting who was killed.
For Bread and Roses Legal Center, mutual aid is a long-term commitment and an investment in a community. “It’s like whatever people need,” Williams explains. “Basically, anything that people need that they say will help them feel safer and more complete in their communities, that’s what we want to do.”
Note: The author will be externing at Bread and Roses Legal Center in Summer 2023.