Last week, members of Salem’s LGBTQ community sought comfort and support from one another after a mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ nightclub.
On Nov. 19, a gunman shot and killed five people at Club Q in Colorado Springs and wounded 19 others. The victims were Derrick Rump, Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Raymond Green Vance, according to reporting by The (Colorado Springs) Gazette.
It was an act of violence in a year where anti-trans laws are on the rise nationally, and as school boards, including in Salem, have become increasingly politicized with campaigns focusing on gender identity and sexuality.
Earlier this year, Samuel Townsend founded a Salem-based group called Say Gay. It’s intended as a coalition for the LGBTQIA+ community, an acronym referring to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual. The name references a Florida law that banned lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarten through third grade, which critics have referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Say Gay hosted a vigil on Nov. 23 downtown to remember the victims of the Club Q shooting.
“I wanted to provide a safe space for people to be able to grieve, and feel how they’re feeling without worrying about judgment or getting harmed because of who or what they are,” Townsend said.
The vigil was in a smaller space, he said, with about 15 people attending and over a dozen more visiting for the potluck bringing three tables worth of homemade food. He asked attendees not to take photographs to respect everyone’s privacy. They had security there, too.
Townsend said the event was comfortable and joyful, with some tearful embraces.
He spoke at the gathering, which had a framed picture of the Club Q victims at the front. He said his speech focused on the need to process the community’s feelings from the past year.
“We’re here because we lost some of our own. And that’s not okay,” he said. “Our angle was: people need to stop killing us because we’re gay.”
Amira Stanley, a local activist and mindfulness coach, supported Townsend in setting up the Club Q vigil.
She recalled her feelings after the 2016 Pulse shooting in Orlando, Florida that killed 49 people at the gay nightclub. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Stanley felt helpless at the time. After Club Q, she said the best thing to do is create space for people who are in the community, and educate those who are not.
“For me what it means now is just – it’s community – and showing up in spaces as queer people and just keep reminding the community that we matter, that queer, trans, all of us, we matter,” she said.
After the vigil, Stanley said a group went to a gay club to do karaoke for some self-care. A go-to song for her is Rihanna’s “Take a Bow.”
“Just keep supporting each other. Being there, as a community, and educating people who don’t understand the devastation of what this means,” she said. “For a lot of us, our gay clubs are where we feel the safest. So if we can’t be okay at our safe spaces, that’s really devastating ‘cause sometimes all we have is that one gay club – that one gay space – to sing karaoke and feel safe.”
Following the shooting, Stanley said she hopes the LGBTQ community will come together to process their difficult emotions and find ways to advocate for themselves.
“Just not being afraid to continue to go to those spaces, and not being afraid to really do self-care and take care of ourselves. That’s what I’m hoping for,” she said.
Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.
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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.