Colorado Springs’s gay community mourns friends, and a sense of safety.
COLORADO SPRINGS — The grief swirling through Colorado Springs’s tight-knit LGBTQ community was still raw when Kevin Dexter gathered his staff members at Shuga’s, an eclectic downtown restaurant, to decide whether to open on Sunday.
“We’re a queer staff,” said Mr. Dexter, who owns the restaurant with her husband. Many of his line cooks, waiters and bartenders knew people who had been inside Club Q when it was attacked, or knew some of the five people killed. Another gay bar downtown had closed in mourning as vigils took place across the city.
But the workers at Shuga’s decided they would serve dinner in a kind of defiant love for their community, which has not always felt welcome in the county, a conservative area that was once a center of anti-gay activism.
“We can be scared, or we can’t run,” said Gerson Castillo, 31, a bartender who helped keep the restaurant running late into the night. “As terrifying as it is, we face this danger every single day.”
All night, they gave away food and drinks. An LGBTQ-owned stationery business sent over roses. The staff pinned black ribbons set against a rainbow background to their kitchen uniforms.
As they poured cocktails and served up salads and almond cake, they hugged and shared their memories about the victims of the shooting, and talked about how their sense of security in Colorado Springs’s small but increasingly visible gay community now felt shattered.
“I’ve felt so safe here,” said Mr. Castillo, who arrived six years ago from Georgia. “This morning, I felt like my light had been dimmed. I didn’t want to wear bright colours. It was like: Hey, in case I forgot, I’m still gay.”
Samuel Fairley, 29, a waiter who moved to Colorado Springs from New Orleans a year ago, nodded as the two stood together behind the bar.
“I don’t want to walk home,” he said.
Spencer Abila, 18, a line cook, said that it had not always been easy growing up gay in Colorado Springs, and that he had not felt comfortable being open about his identity for much of his childhood. He had found support and a welcoming place at work and in the queer community, but now wondered if it would be safer to just present to the world as a straight man.
“You feel like you’re fine for a second,” he said. “Your community seems super inclusive and diverse. Then a mass shooting happens.”