Image: Club Q
The other week the monthly email from the editor of my column for Gay London Life hit my inbox: ‘Hi Nathaniel! Your piece is due Wednesday. It’s our Christmas issue, so make it festive!’
It was two days before the evening of Saturday 19 November, the night a man walked into a busy LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs USA and open fired on the customers packed in to watch a drag show.
I tried to muster some festive spirit to write something camp and witty and ignore the pain, but I couldn't
The gunman killed 5 people before he was wrestled to the ground by US army veteran Richard Fierro, who was watching the show with his wife and daughter. A man named Thomas James was also involved in stopping him.
In the days after, I read a trans woman (or drag performer, the reports are conflicting) also beat the attacker with her heels, and it reminds me of the courage of gender non-conforming people at Stonewall.
As people on social media began pointing out, the bravery of Trans people and drag queens often outstrips the gun-wielding, bullet-proof vest wearing, MAGA-chanting, GOP-brigade.
It’s an image both pointedly camp and tragically horrific at the same time.
As the names of the dead were confirmed, I saw a photo of two of them smiling behind the bar in Club Q.
With OTT lighting, alcopops in the fridge, and a floor that I suspect is the more suspicious side of sticky, it looked like any one of our bars across the world.
It looked like the space we all know and love.
A space that might be rough around the edges and tacky as hell, but a space that is OURS.
It’s the space where we celebrate, connect, escape, love, and where we are free to express ourselves fully.
Now, in the wake of yet another violent attack, it’s the space where we mourn.
The Pulse Nightclub shooting, America’s deadliest ever mass-shooting and worst mainland terror attack since 9/11, took the lives of 49 LGBTQ+ people just 8 years ago in 2016.
And these are the stories we hear of, but I’m certain there are more that don’t hit our headlines.
Of course, the fear for our own safety in our bars here in Britain spikes at times like this.
And although mass shootings are infrequent here, let’s not forget that 23 years ago, 3 people were killed and 83 injured in a neo-Nazi bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan in Soho, London in 1999.
It has happened here, and the fear it could happen again is real.
The events at Club Q coincided with another story: whether or not the England football team would wear the rainbow armband during the World Cup.
Threatened with yellow cards by FIFA, the team backtracked on their pledge to show the world that LGBTQ+ lives matter.
You see, it’s easy for cis-het people to walk away when the going gets tough, but real allyship means putting your own neck on the line when the time comes.
Real allyship looks like Richard Fierro, a man married to a woman (I won’t assume heterosexual) supporting a drag show and stepping (literally) into the line of fire.
Performative allyship means nothing if you’re not there with us when it matters most: marching at confrontational rallies, not just glittery gay prides; or standing up against prejudice in our schools, workplaces, places of worship and political arenas when we’re too tired to fight ourselves.
Performative allyship looks like the majority cis-het crowd on The Last Leg (a show I never thought would get it so wrong) singing: ‘Three heads on a spike’ to the tune of ‘Three Lions on a Shirt’ in the most misguided attempt to satirise anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Qatar.
My heart aches for LGBTQ+ Qatari’s who live in constant fear of state-sponsored violence – singing graphic descriptions of queer violence to a jaunty tune will not save them, or any one of us.
It’s no coincidence that the Club Q attack took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
And it’s no coincidence that a number of the dead are trans people, or that this shooting rides the wave of anti-trans rhetoric stirred up online by right-wing gender ideological extremists.
I won’t name names, but their words have direct consequences.
When I emailed the editor with my article a couple of weeks back, I apologised that it wasn't very festive - but right now, as I was then, I’m struggling through the tears.
Their names were: Daniel Davis Aston, Derrick Rump, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Raymond Green Vance.
This Christmas more than ever, we remember the dead and fight like hell for the living.
If you would like to support the official Club Q fundraiser you can donate at: www.clubqonline.com