50.50: Opinion

Club Q shooting shows link between anti-LGBTQ views, misogyny and violence

OPINION: We won’t solve gun violence until we accept that the US right is a threat to democracy and human rights

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
22 November 2022, 2.16pm

A vigil for the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to bring light to the rights of transgender people and the deadly shooting at Club Q in Colorado the night before, 20 November 2022

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Aimee Dilger / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire

This year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance – a day set aside to honor the memory of trans victims of anti-trans violence – was marred by yet another mass shooting in the United States, this one targeting an LGBTQ space, Club Q, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It is not yet clear whether the shooter intended to target trans people specifically, but among the five people slaughtered in the attack were bartenders Daniel Aston, a trans man, Derrick Rump, a gay man, and customer Kerry Loving, a trans woman. The names of the other two murder victims are Raymond Green Vance and Ashley Paugh.

That the shooter intended to target trans people seems likely, however, given the anti-trans frenzy the American Right has whipped up over the last few years and the fact that Club Q had plans to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance with a drag brunch and an evening show “with a variety of gender identities and performance styles”, according to reporting by Reuters.

We do know that the alleged perpetrator, 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, hails from a right-wing Mormon family and grew up frequently exposed to far-right views. His grandfather, Randy Voepel, is an outgoing Republican state assembly member in southern California known for extreme MAGA rhetoric – for example, Voepel compared the 6 January insurrection to the American Revolution, declaring that a Joe Biden presidency would represent “tyranny”. Under the pressure of public criticism and calls for his expulsion from the California legislature, Voepel later walked back his remarks, “clarifying” that he opposes “violence and lawlessness”.

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That someone from the kind of ideological milieu inhabited by Aldrich and his family would commit violence against a scapegoated minority group is, however, unsurprising – and even the police in Colorado Springs, a bastion of the Christian Right in a state that has overall trended reliably Democratic in recent years, are convinced that this is what happened, as Aldrich, who is currently being held without bond, faces five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of bias-motivated crimes causing bodily injury.

Political crime in the United States follows a pattern. In 2015, a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic was the site of a shooting motivated by anti-abortion extremism. And the mass shooting at Club Q comes less than a month after an assailant motivated by misogyny and right-wing conspiracy theories attacked and injured Paul Pelosi – the husband of long-time Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, whom the assailant reportedly intended to target – in the Pelosis’ San Francisco home.

The mass shooting at Club Q has sparked criticism of the lax enforcement of “red flag” laws meant to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people like Aldrich, who was arrested last year for making a bomb threat against his own mother, although the charges in that case were dropped.

It is important to have those discussions and to advocate for better gun control legislation despite the many obstacles to passing such legislation in the US. At the same time, however, it is important to have a broader discussion about the interconnections between domestic violence, anti-women and anti-LGBTQ views, and mass violence, as the Club Q incident sits at the intersection of these three toxic and often connected phenomena.

As I write this column, the Gun Violence Archive, a website that tracks gun violence in the US, shows a total of 604 mass shootings in the country this year to date. Easy access to guns, spotty enforcement at best of the very limited gun control laws that do exist, a bizarre fetishisation of gun ownership on the American right, and a general social climate of distrust and political grievance amid economic struggles for most Americans are surely among the key reasons that the number of mass shootings taking place each year in America now consistently exceeds the number of days in the year, by a considerable margin.

Mass shootings are now simply a part of the backdrop against which Americans go about our lives. Most never land on the general public’s radar, and many do not seem to be ideological in character. Those that are, however, frequently prove to be of a piece with the other acts of political violence and domestic terrorism we see on the American right, including, to take some relatively recent examples: the attack on Paul Pelosi; the planned kidnapping of Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan; the 6 January insurrection; and the attempted group assault on a local Pride event in Idaho this past summer.

What all these actions have in common is the hatred for queer people, independent women and scapegoated minorities in general that characterises right-wing, mostly white, mostly Christian American authoritarianism. Authoritarianism, with its intolerance for diversity or dissent, is abuse elevated to a social scale.

And until we recognise that the American right is an authoritarian threat to democracy, human rights, and stability in this country, we will fail to get to the root of our gun violence problem.

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