Flags are flying at half-mast throughout Colorado in honor of the victims of the shootings in Orlando, Florida over the weekend, where dozens were killed and dozens more wounded. The shootings took place at The Pulse, a gay nightclub.
One Colorado, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the state, issued a statement saying the incident is "a stark reminder that the battle to end violence against LGBTQ people is far from over."
Executive Director of One Colorado, Dave Montez, says he's been hearing a mixture of shock and sadness from people throughout the state.
"But also resilience. The LGBT and Latino communities are mourning right now. It was Latin night at Pulse nightclub," says Montez. "But we [LGBTQ communities] unfortunately have faced hatred and adversity before, and we are resilient. We have always pulled through by coming together as one community."
Nic Grzecka is the President of Colorado Springs PrideFest and co-owner of Club Q, a gay and lesbian nightclub in town. The club was one of many in the state, and even the country, to host a vigil Sunday night. Grzecka estimates between 400-500 people showed up, and says it was important to have the vigil then and not wait.
"It was important for us to do it as it had happened to show our [LGBT] community that we're all still here for each other," says Grzecka. "We're not going to hide back in the closet, we're going to be proud, we're going to stand with each other and with Orlando."
Deb Walker, Executive Director of the Citizens Project in Colorado Springs, was among the speakers at last night's vigil. Citizens Project began, in part, in response to Colorado's Amendment 2, a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that prohibited inclusion of sexual orientation under equal protection rights. The U. S. Supreme Court eventually struck it down.
Walker says her message is one of unity.
"Most importantly, we stand in unity with the LGBT community who are really grieving right now," says Walker, calling it the largest hate crime in recent history.
In addition, Walker says she's concerned about potential backlash facing Muslim communities across the country. "They will also be living with increased fear and increased discrimination."
It's a sentiment shared by Dave Montez, Executive Director of One Colorado.
"We absolutely have got to rise above the angry rhetoric and come together as one community," says Montez. "The answer to hatred has always been love and unity, and not more hatred."
Montez says he's aware of at least 15 vigils across the state that have either already been held or are scheduled. "We absolutely cannot allow senseless acts like this to send our community back into the closet," says Montez. "We've worked too hard and for too long to get where we are."
He also says one of the things people can do to show support is to attend PrideFest.
"We need our allies and our neighbors now more than ever to stand with us and to march with us to send a message that love is stronger than hate," says One Colorado's Montez.
Denver's PrideFest is taking place this upcoming weekend, and organizers say they're going ahead with their festival with tight security, including metal detectors and fences.
In Colorado Springs, PrideFest takes place July 9-10 at America the Beautiful Park. Nic Grzecka, President of the Colorado Springs PrideFest, says he thinks the events this past weekend will have a positive effect on attendance, and he's asking for people to show their support of the LGBT community.
"We encourage allies, straight people, anybody to come out and stand by our side," Grzecka says. "Show us that you support us. That means so much to the LGBT community to know that their neighbor supports them... Showing up in public means so much to our community, standing right by our sides."
Grzecka says he's confident that meetings with law enforcement officials here will help determine the right level of security at his club, Club Q, and for PrideFest.
Southern Colorado is changing a lot these days. We can help you keep up. Sign up for the KRCC Weekly Digest here and get the stories that matter to Southern Colorado, delivered straight to your inbox.