How do we move forward with the hate confronting us?

In the aftermath of the deadly Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, I’m struggling to reconcile the promise of America with the anti-LGBTQ hate engulfing our nation. I intentionally chose to frame this as a collective rather than focus exclusively on the actions of the Club Q killer. This type of hate-motivated violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and people aren’t radicalized through spontaneous combustion.

William Faulkner once wrote, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” I suppose this is true in this case. My darling is my unbridled hope and belief that this nation, despite some significant speed bumps, continues an inevitable march toward a fully inclusive democracy. My currency is hope, but for now I must kill it to truly express the depth of my grief and anger over the Club Q shooting.

Although the targets are ostensibly different, the attacks on LGTBQ nightclubs, synagogues and Black churches are attempts to dehumanize and terrorize the LGTBQ, Jewish, and Black communities in our traditional safe spaces. Once a safe place is desecrated, it is never the same again. That special thing, which makes the space sacred, loses some if not all of its life-giving power. This gets to the core of my grief and despair.  I grieve because another community has been denied the joy of its sacred space. I’m angered because hate has forced another community to mourn its dead.

A while back, I walked by a church with an outdoor bulletin board that read, “Rather than a wall, America needs to build a giant mirror to reflect on what we’ve become.” This message was intended as a rebuke of Trump’s immigration policies, but the “wall” may as well be the violence directed toward the LGTBQ community. According to a recent report by the Human Rights Campaign, in 2022, at least 32 transgender and gender-nonconforming people have been murdered. Of that number, 81% were transgendered people of color.

In 2022 alone, 240 anti-LGTBQ bills were introduced in state legislatures. Far-right politicians have derided drag queens and promoted debunked stories that transgendered persons were grooming children. In Colorado, at one point, the gubernatorial race became dominated by the Republican nominee’s insistence the LGBTQ agenda was being promoted in schools by “furries.” The Douglas County commission even considered new regulations to ban drag queen events on county-owned property. This summer, members of the Patriot Front, a white nationalist group, were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for planning an attack on that city’s Pride event. In this environment, no wonder the Club Q killer felt so emboldened.

Amid all this heartache, mourning, and the pain, the question that begs to be asked is, “where do we go from here?” Two of the most influential men in my life were Robert Longstreet and Bob Travis. Mr. Longstreet was an editor with the Washington Post and Mr. Travis was a successful Washington, D.C. Realtor. My mother was their cook and caterer.

At first, I simply thought they were roommates. I didn’t know any different until one day I asked my mother why they seemed to act like a married couple. Without hesitation, my mother said their love was stronger than any other married couple she had ever seen. She didn’t make any distinctions based on sexuality or gender. They were like any other married couple.

In her own way, my Baptist church deaconess and Sunday School superintendent mother conveyed to me the inherent value of their humanity. My mother didn’t allow any space for hate to grow in my heart.

Perhaps, the challenge of the Club Q shooting is for us as a people to confront the empty spaces in our hearts, which allows hate to grow. In Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” Charmian tells Cleopatra “In time we hate that which we often fear.” My mother gave me a wonderful gift by teaching me not to fear Mr. Longstreet and Mr. Travis. It is time for us to gift ourselves the same because democracy can’t prosper where hate prevails.

Terrance Carroll is a former speaker of the Colorado House. The first and only African American to ever hold that position in Colorado. He is a Baptist preacher, attorney, and police officer. He is on Twitter @speakercarroll.

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