Survivors of the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs brought their stories to Congress on Wednesday, asking for a crackdown on hate speech they blamed for the attack last month that killed five people and injured 19.
James Slaugh, a survivor of the attack who spoke before the House Oversight Committee, blamed elected leaders for stoking anti-gay bigotry in the U.S.
“The hateful rhetoric we have heard from elected leaders is the direct cause of the horrific shooting at Club Q. We need elected leaders to demonstrate language that reflects love and understanding, not hate and fear,” he said.
Club Q survivor Michael Anderson urged elected leaders to choose their words carefully.
“Hate speech turns into hate actions and actions based on hate almost took my life from me at 25 years old,” Mr. Anderson said. “I beg you all to consider your words before you speak them for someone may use those words to justify action, action that may take someone’s life.”
Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat, organized the hearing to pillory Republicans for allegedly harboring anti-gay and anti-transgender bias and look for a correlation between anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and hate crimes.
SEE ALSO: Rainbow colors projected onto White House following signing of Respect for Marriage Act
“Make no mistake, the rise in anti-LGBTQI+ extremism and the despicable policies that Republicans at every level of government are advancing to attack the health and safety of LGBTQI+ people are harming the LGBTQI+ community and contributing to tragedies like what we saw at Club Q,” she said in a statement.
Republicans balked at the blanket dispersions cast upon the party’s lawmakers, noting the prevalence of leftwing violence.
“What we have is a spiritual problem,” said Rep. Jody Hice, Georgia Republican. “It is totally false to say all hate crimes are coming from the right. It’s absolutely not. There are leftwing groups and likewise who are full of hate, and sometimes that’s found in the LGBT community towards those who disagree with them.”
Rep. Fred Keller, Pennsylvania Republican, said blaming the GOP is divisive and only politicizes the issue of rising crime and targeted attacks.
“Whoever a crime is committed against, we need to defend those people, we need to stand up and let them know we love them and we’re not going to tolerate them being treated poorly, but we should not be blaming one another. We should be blaming the people who commit these crimes,” Mr. Keller said.
The hearing comes less than a month after the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q.
Anderson Lee Aldrich, the 22-year-old suspect, was charged last week with more than 300 criminal counts, including first-degree murder and hate crimes.
The hate crime charges would require proof that Aldrich was motivated by a bias, which could include targeting the victims’ actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Aldrich was beaten into submission during the event by club patrons, who helped stop the mass shooting in minutes.
Aldrich identifies as nonbinary, using they/them pronouns, according to court filings by public defenders.
The suspect currently remains booked at the El Paso County Jail in Colorado.
The testimonies also fell on the 10th anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 students and six teachers dead.
Some lawmakers noted the weight of the day.
“I’ve always been learning more about what happens after they come out and speak out after the attacks. Their lives are completely changed and I wish we could do more to protect them,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, told The Washington Times.
The hearing also featured directors of various LGBTQ advocacy groups and a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting that happened in Orlando in 2016.
Survivor Brandon Wolf pointed fingers at Republican-led legislation, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing a law that prohibits schools from teaching about sexual orientation or sexual identity in kindergarten through third grade, or in any other grade in a manner that is not age-appropriate.
Critics dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
“We have been smeared and defamed. Hundreds of bills have been filed in order to erase us,” Mr. Wolf said. “Powerful figures have insisted that the greatest threats this country faces are a teacher with they/them pronouns or someone in a wig reading Red Fish, Blue Fish.”