WASHINGTON – Survivors of last month's deadly mass shooting at a Colorado gay nightclub testified Wednesday to Congress about the onslaught of threats and violence against members of the LGBTQ community as they urged lawmakers to pass a law banning some semiautomatic weapons.
Michael Anderson, a 25-year-old bartender at Club Q, described how his place of work was a safe haven for him and many others before a 22-year-old shooter turned a drag queen’s birthday celebration into a massacre on Nov. 19. Five people were killed and 25 were injured before the shooter armed with an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon was subdued by patrons.
“This shooter entered our safe space and our home with the intention of killing as many people as possible, as quickly as possible," Anderson said. “They used a military-style weapon that exists solely for the intention of killing other human beings, and began to hunt us down as if we were disposable, as if our lives meant nothing.”
James Slaugh testified about watching his sister, Charlene, bleed on the nightclub floor after a bullet ripped through her right arm. “My heart melted as she tried to dial 911 with her good arm. I called out to her and I heard no response," he said. The siblings were there to celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance before several pops rang out in between the pounding club music. James Slaugh also was among those shot.
Wednesday's testimony to the House Oversight Committee came as lawmakers race to finish their work for the year. To the frustration of many Democrats, the year-end agenda doesn’t include legislation to ban semiautomatic firearms due to firm Republican opposition.
The House passed legislation in July that would ban assault weapons for the first time since 2004, but it failed to pass in the Senate. Republicans dismiss the bill as an attack on Second Amendment rights.
Wednesday’s hearing also came on the 10-year anniversary of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that took the lives of 20 students and six teachers. Mass shootings haven't abated since then, with another deadly attack at a school occurring just this summer in Uvalde, Texas.
In the weeks after the attack in Texas and a grocery store shooting in Buffalo, New York, Congress made its most far-reaching response in decades to the nation's run of brutal mass shootings by passing a package of bills that would toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers and keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders, among other things.
But Democrats, including President Joe Biden, say far more action on guns is needed, particularly given that mass shootings frequently target specific ethnic groups and religions.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the Oversight committee, said the hearing Wednesday was meant to show that violence against LGBTQ people does not happen in a vacuum.
“The attack on Club Q — and the LGBTQI+ community — is not an isolated incident, but part of a broader trend of violence and intimidation across the country,” Maloney said. She pointed to the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills passed in statehouses across the U.S. since 2018.
Matthew Haynes, the founding owner of Club Q, said the political rhetoric targeting the LGBTQI+ community can have deadly consequences due to the availability of semiautomatic weapons.
“We were lucky that night that the casualties were not much higher," Haynes said.
Haynes, who is gay, was among the thousands of people who gathered Tuesday at the White House to watch Biden sign historic legislation protecting same-sex marriages.
“It was honestly the first joy and pride I have felt since the horrific shooting at Club Q,” Haynes said. But he criticized the 169 Republicans in the House who voted against the legislation.
“To the members of this committee I humbly ask, are LGBTQ people not part of your constituency?” he asked the panel. “Do you not represent us? While we wait for you to answer, we are being slaughtered and dehumanized across this country, in communities you took oaths to protect. LGBTQ issues are not political issues.”
In his opening statement, Rep, James Comer of Kentucky, the committee's top Republican, said Republicans condemn all violence and hate, including the recent attack in Colorado.
But Comer accused Maloney and other Democrats on the panel of using the mass shooting at Club Q as a political tool to attack Republicans across the aisle, instead of focusing on rising crime.