Why Words Matter When Talking About Community Tragedies

On Saturday, Nov. 19, a 22-year-old gunman killed five people and injured 25 others at a LGBTQ nightclub in my hometown, Colorado Springs. Since then, I’ve been asked no less than 10 times what it’s like to have something “like that” happen so close to home by concerned friends and family who know that I live three miles away from Club Q. 

In a word? Angry

I’m angry that more active shooter incidents continue to traumatize my community and my country each year. But I’m also angry at community leaders who are not giving the victims of this specific tragedy the acknowledgement they deserve. I’ll explain. 

My family moved to Colorado in 1992–the same year Bill Clinton became the 42nd president of the United States, Barney & Friends premiered and Whitney Houston first belted Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Since then, we’ve watched our state become almost as famous for its mass shootings as its snow-capped scenery. I, myself, have witnessed several. 

  • In 1998, I watched teenagers jump out of windows on the second floor of Columbine High School to escape two active shooters on the local news. 
  • In 2011, I watched Anne Curry of NBC News report live from the blood-splattered parking lot of the Aurora Theater two miles east of my first post-college apartment while helicopters loudly circled overhead. 
  • In 2022, I watched people line up along a busy three-lane boulevard to lay flowers outside of Club Q. I was one of them.

Seeing the photos of Kelly Loving, Raymond Green Vance, Ashley Paugh, Daniel Aston and Derrick Rump surrounded by chalk drawings and letters that read “love, not hate” literally brought me to my knees (thank you to the kind couple who offered me water and my dear friend who held my arm). And it made me wonder what certain community leaders had to say about it. I looked it up, and in my personal and professional opinion, they didn’t say enough. 

“…We condemn violence anytime against any group of people. Our hearts are broken for those who lost their lives last night in our city.”

This horrific act of violence didn’t happen to just “any group of people.” It happened to LGBTQ people–people who are already four times more likely to experience violence in their life than their straight counterparts. When we talk about the senseless execution of people who belong to marginalized groups in euphemisms we place shame on their identities instead of where it belongs–on the executioners.

“Thoughts and Prayers” are Insufficient

As a leader, if you or your organization are going to make a public statement about a community tragedy you must acknowledge 1) Who was harmed 2) Why they were harmed 3) The impact of that harm and 4) How you plan on supporting the healing process. Regardless of your intention, anything less will be received as insincere and your stakeholders need to know that you care.

You can do all of those things regardless of your political affiliation, religious beliefs, or stance on controversial issues like gun control. Grief, and the compassion you can show a community experiencing it, is limitless. 

To Kelly Loving, Raymond Green Vance, Ashley Paugh, Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, and anyone else in Colorado who has been harmed because of who they are or who they love, we will always love you. 

How You Can Help Survivors of the Club Q Tragedy: 

Donate to the Colorado Healing Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 2018 to establish a secure way for the public to contribute to victims of mass casualty crimes in Colorado.

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