Survivors of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs demanded faster and more transparent distribution of millions of dollars of victim aid money during a visit to the state Capitol on Tuesday.
The group — which also included people harmed by the shootings at the Boulder King Soopers and Denver’s Sol Tribe Tattoo shop, among others — requested lawmakers put more pressure on nonprofits that are handling the disbursement, mainly the Colorado Healing Fund.
The fund, which raised over $2 million from the public after the November shooting, has faced mounting criticism of its distribution model in recent weeks.
Many survivors from Club Q and other shootings say they have struggled to get funding for things like basic living expenses and paying off funeral costs, which the fund is supposed to help with.
“(The Healing Fund) has not reached out to any of us to talk about what they're gonna do with the funds that they've raised for us,” said Adriana Vance, mother of Raymond Green Vance, one of the five people killed at Club Q, during Tuesday’s visit. “I don't believe that this should continue to go on.”
A formal recognition of the shooting at the legislature
Lawmakers originally invited survivors and victim’s families to the House floor for a formal recognition of the November tragedy, as well as the larger toll of mass shootings in the state. At the start of Tuesday’s session, members of Colorado’s House LGBTQ Legislative Caucus passed a resolution in support of the community and called for more acceptance.
“Let us work together to build bridges instead of burn them, to create spaces of acceptance and mutual understanding instead of suspicion and distrust, and to propagate love instead of hate,” said Democratic Rep. Brianna Titone, the legislature’s first transgender lawmaker.
Freshman state Rep. Stephanie Vigil represents the El Paso County district that includes Club Q. She said she got her first constituent phone call late at night after the shooting, from a woman who had lost friends. Vigil connected the attack to the growing tide of hate speech and anti-LGBTQ sentiment around the nation.
“As a member of this community and representative for the district where Club Q is located, I'm here to say, I'm not going anywhere, no one's going back in the closet,” Vigil said.
“We're not going to drop it and move on, and we're not going to allow our fair city of Colorado Springs to drop this atrocity in the memory hole and let it fade away,” she told her fellow lawmakers, concluding: “Love will win. We’ll make sure of it.”
'They need to stop pretending like they know what's best for my family'
Immediately following the House memorial, the group of survivors spoke on the Capitol steps about issues accessing recovery funds. Many focused their concerns around the Healing Fund’s distribution model, which often requires survivors to submit reimbursements for expenses through a victim advocate.
Mark Slaugh, a resident of Trinidad who had three family members injured in the shooting, said he received help in the weeks after. But his advocate had denied several of his more recent requests. They included trip expenses to Colorado Springs to help his sister recover at home.
“I have to be their advocate to struggle for simple bills to get paid,” he said. “They need to stop pretending like they know what's best for my family. My family knows what's best for my family.”
The Healing Fund has defended its distribution model in previous statements, saying it was created by "more than 20 of Colorado’s leading experts in the area of incident response.”
It has also promised to distribute 100 percent of the money raised for Club Q victims to those harmed by the shooting, instead of holding any back for operating expenses. The fund has distributed over $600,000 of the original funding to survivors so far, according to the organization.
An additional $1.3 million in direct cash payments are being distributed from an anonymous underwriter. Those will go toward patrons of the club who were present during the shooting, as well as victim families, said CHF Executive Director Jordan Finegan.
"Our experts evaluated numerous responses ranging from 9/11 to the Virginia Tech shootings to the Boston Marathon bombing to identify best practices that are now reflected in our policies," Finegan said. "Experts recommend against distributing every dollar we receive immediately because we should balance the immediate needs of victims with long-term needs to ensure that the funds we distribute make the biggest positive difference in their lives."
Speakers on Tuesday also criticized Club Q’s fundraising efforts
After the shooting, the club raised about $55,000 through a GoFundMe set up to help employees and pay for rebuilding costs associated with the business.
Hysteria Brooks, a performer and contractor with Club Q, said their income dried up after the club’s closure and they have yet to receive any support from the club to help with living expenses.
“People should come before businesses,” Brooks said.
The club has heard concerns from employees, said Michael Anderson, an administrator for Club Q. The business plans to release its first round of support from the GoFundMe later this week, he said.
“This fund is not to assist victims with trauma,” Anderson said. “The GoFundMe’s purpose has always been that staffers and contractors (should) not lose their income, (and) to build a memorial and repair the building.”
Memorials and other legislative efforts to protect LGBTQ rights continue
Tuesday’s memorial in the House marked the latest in remembrances around the state for the Club Q shooting. Gov. Jared Polis invited survivors to his State of the State speech in January.
Democratic lawmakers are also working on efforts aimed at protecting and advancing LGBTQ rights, including a bill to protect families who come to Colorado for gender-affirming care.
Tuesday’s memorial came a day after a House committee voted down a bill that would have required youth athletes to only compete on teams based on the gender they were assigned at birth. Rep. Titone called it infuriating that the trans community had to come out to testify against the Republican-backed bill so soon after the violence at Club Q.
“There's no reason for anyone to be denied their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” she said.
Club Q survivors who visited the Capitol Tuesday thanked lawmakers for their support. But many asked them to get involved to ensure donated funds from the public ended up in the hands of those impacted by the shooting.
“These are the guys who endorsed the public to go donate to the Healing Fund,” said Slaugh, whose family members were injured in the shooting. “We know it as the Colorado Stealing Fund.”
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