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Matthew Haynes, right, a founding owner of Club Q, hugs James Slaugh, a survivor of Club Q shooting, after a House Oversight Committee hearing, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Matthew Haynes, the co-owner of Club Q, has received hundreds of hateful messages since an armed assailant killed five people and wounded at least 17 others last month at his LGBTQ bar in Colorado Springs.

“The only thing I’m mad about is that the (expletive) had courage to subdue the wonderful killer,” one person commented. “I hope more shootings happen.”

Another said “the shooter was doing God’s work.”

Haynes read the messages Wednesday during a congressional hearing on the rise of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violence across the United States. 

Members of the House Oversight Committee heard from Haynes and two survivors of the Club Q shooting, Michael Anderson and James Slaugh, as well as from LGBTQ advocates. Those testifying pleaded with the elected officials to help make a positive change in how their community is discussed.

“We are being slaughtered and dehumanized across this country,” Haynes said. “LGBTQ issues are not political issues. They are not lifestyles. They are not beliefs. They are not choices. They are basic human rights.”

The hearing came a day after President Joe Biden signed a bill into law protecting same-sex and interracial marriages. Haynes, who wasn’t at Club Q when the shooting happened, attended the White House signing ceremony.

Michael Anderson, survivor of the Club Q shooting, testifies before a House Oversight Committee hearing, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Anderson, a bartender at Club Q, told the Oversight Committee about what he experienced during the attack and asked them to support a so-called assault weapon ban.

“I felt more terrified than I ever have before in my life,” he said. “While I prepared for my life to end in that moment, I prayed, I panicked and I prayed some more. God must have heard my prayers because two brave men stopped the shooter moments before he would have inevitably found me.” 

The shooting came to an end when two Club Q patrons, Richard Fierro and Thomas James, tackled and subdued the alleged shooter until police arrived. Fierro, a combat veteran, said the suspect appeared to be carrying an AR-15. 

Anderson described saying goodbye to a friend who had been shot. “I can still hear the rapid firing of bullets today,” he said. “It’s a sound I may never forget.”

He scolded those in politics who accuse those in the LGBTQ community of grooming children and being abusers: “Shame on you,” he said. 

Slaugh, who was wounded in the attack, was about to leave Club Q with his boyfriend when the shooter entered the building, he told the committee.

“Several pops rang out and I immediately felt a searing pain in my right arm,” he said. “I saw everyone on the ground, glass panes shattered and blood running from my arm and chest.”

His sister and boyfriend were also shot.

“Outside of these spaces, we are continually being dehumanized, marginalized and targeted,” he said. “The fear-based and hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, especially around trans individuals and drag performers, leads to violence.”

Matthew Haynes, founding owner of Club Q, testifies before a House Oversight Committee hearing, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, opened the meeting by summarizing various legislative efforts introduced by Republicans that she said villainize LGBTQ people.

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“These hateful pieces of legislation have fueled a dangerous rise in extreme anti-LGBTQI rhetoric,” she said.

Republican James Comer, the ranking GOP member of the committee, rejected the idea that his party has contributed to violence during his opening comments.

“Unfortunately, Democrats are using committee time and resources today to blame Republicans for this horrendous crime. This is not an oversight hearing,” he said. “This is a ‘Blame Republicans so we don’t have to take responsibility for our own defund the police and soft-on-crime policies.’”

He went on to say violence and crime are up across the entire country and in all communities.

The committee also heard testimony Wednesday from representatives from the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Williams Institute, The Manhattan Institute, Inside Out Youth Services and a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub attack in Florida.

Elliott Wenzler wrote about politics, water, housing, and other topics for The Colorado Sun from October 2022 through September 2023. She has covered community issues in Colorado since 2019, including for Colorado Community Media. She has been...