BILLINGS — A shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, CO late Saturday evening left at least five dead and 18 injured.
The shooting has led local Billings LGBTQ+ organizations to offer support and resources for those struggling with the horrific event.
“As I understand last night, the reason this didn’t get really bad was that the LGBT community turned on that shooter. (They) subdued them really quickly. To me, that’s what we have to do. We have to be more aware of our surroundings,” says Walt Donges, the president of 406 Pride, on Sunday. “As LGBT community, we are constantly looking at our environment to make sure that we are safe. That’s how we are conditioned. We can be attacked at any point and time, at any minute of the day."
406 Pride is an LGBTQ+ resource center located in downtown Billings that aims at providing resources, information, and a safe space for those that need it.
“What do we do? We do the only thing that the LGBTQ community can do at this point and time, especially a nonprofit. And that is we stand up, and we speak out. We become, of course, targets,” Donges says.
Donges explains that 406 Pride met with Riverstone Health and the Billings Clinic over the summer to discuss safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.
“We talked about little things that LGBT people are looking for, for that sign of security. It can be a little tiny pen with a rainbow on it, and we’ll know we’re basically going to be in a safe space,” Donges explains.
Donges explains that members of the LGBTQ+ community are always on their toes and looking for signs that the space they are in is welcome to them. He also states that allies of the community can help out in this time by speaking out and being a source of support.
“Allies please just step up and show your support. Reach out to those that you love, because that’s really what it’s all about. If we don’t have family that we carry with us when we come out, then we create our own family. And that’s the LGBT community many times, and we watch out for each other," Donges explains. "But allies, man, we love you. We need you, we respect all of the stuff that comes with not understanding fully, the queer situation, but the allies, just reach out and be there."
Zack Smith, the founder and CEO of the Billings Transgender Alliance, tells MTN News that the Billings Transgender Alliance, Not in Our Town, and 406 Pride are all great local resources for the Billings LGTBQ+ community. Smith also says that Rainbow Coffee House organizes a middle and high school weekly drop-in group for LGBTQ+ members and allies of the community.
Weekly Rainbow Coffee House meet-ups take place inside Grace United Methodist Church in Billings every Thursday. The church is full-inclusion and aims to welcome everybody.
Pastor Sam Beaves-Fisher is one of the leaders from Grace United Methodist Church for the weekly meet-ups and explained on Sunday the importance of groups like this one.
“Rainbow Coffee House started when some older women in the congregation saw a need for middle school and high school kids to have a place to go. Today that program serves roughly 25 kids a week, who all identify as queer. We offer education, we do STD testing, and we offer support. We have trained therapy on site every time we gather from a grant from Riverstone Health,” Beaves-Fisher explains. “This space really is about creating a community where people who identify as queer, especially our youth who don’t feel safe in the community, can be 100% themselves."
Beaves-Fisher explains that education and voting are also incredibly valuable to prevent future events like this one from happening.
“When we think about future generations of children and kids and young adults who are feeling isolated and alone, and we refuse to address issues of gun violence in our country, we’re going to continue to see marginalized populations attacked senselessly until we stand up and do something different,” Beaves-Fisher explains. “This is an opportunity for us all to stand up and instead of waiting until we get to that point, let’s start that conversation and make those changes before we’re the next community that sees a senseless act of violence.”
Walt Donges of 406 Pride adds that in times like these, the best thing to do is reach out for support, and offer it to those around you. Donges explains that both members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies need to stand up and speak out.
"This whole effort to come into our safe space, the bars, the pubs that we frequent, our safe spaces where we can connect. Our churches. To have people come in there and murder us, I believe the entire United States of America needs to look at that, and say when is enough, enough?" Donges explains. "To live in fear is not to live. The entire society has moved very rapidly towards living in fear constantly. Guess what’s very easy to control? People living in fear."