Survivors of last month's Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, testified at a House Oversight Committee hearing Wednesday regarding anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, extremism and violence.
Michael Anderson, the only Club Q bartender to survive the shooting, described the fear he felt as he stared "down the barrel of a gun" during the Nov. 19 attack. Anderson called on lawmakers to address the prevalence of assault weapons in the U.S.
"I saw my friend lying on the floor, bleeding out, knowing there was little to no chance of surviving that bullet wound," Anderson said. "I had to tell him goodbye while I continued to fear for my life not knowing if the attack was truly over."
After recalling the night of the shooting, Anderson turned his attention to the rhetoric that has been promoted by conservative and far-right lawmakers that have demonized the LGBTQ community.
"To the politicians and activists who accuse LGBTQ people of grooming children and being abusers, shame on you," Anderson said. "Hate speech turns into hate action and actions based on hate almost took my life for me at 25 years old."
Wearing a rainbow pin, Club Q founder Matthew Haynes read aloud several hateful, extremist posts found online in reaction to the Club Q shooting.
One comment read, "'The only thing I'm mad about is that the f-----s had courage to subdue the wonderful killer,'" Haynes said. "I hope more shootings happen. Have a blessed day."
More than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced at the state level in the last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. A rise in attacks, threats and protests against LGBTQ people and allies have been seen across the country amid inflammatory anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in politics.
"Events like this are designed to discourage us from speaking and living our truth," Anderson testified. "They are designed to scare us from living openly, courageously and proudly. We must not succumb to fear. We must live prouder and louder than ever before."
Haynes called out legislators who have threatened some LGBTQ rights in states across the country.
"We are being slaughtered and dehumanized across this country in communities you took oaths to protect," said Haynes. "LGBTQ issues are not political issues. They are not lifestyle. They are not beliefs. They are not choices. They are basic human rights."
Injured club patron James Slaugh, sporting a rainbow tie, reminded legislators of the value of places like Club Q for LGBTQ patrons.
"Club Q was a second home and safe space not just for me, but for all of us," said Slaugh. "Outside of these spaces, we are continually being dehumanized, marginalized and targeted."
The hearing, according to organizers, was held to address the ways in which anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric is rising -- and may be fueling a rise in violence against LGBTQ Americans.
This year, Pride events, drag shows, LGBTQ-friendly medical institutions and more have all become prominent targets of violence, threats and protests.
"From Colorado Springs to my own district in New York City, communities across the country are facing a terrifying rise of anti-LGBTQI+ violence and extremism," House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
Maloney continued, "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."
The suspect accused of killing five people in a mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs is facing 305 charges, including first-degree murder, attempted murder and bias-motivated crimes. The suspect has not yet entered a plea.
Investigators and witnesses at the club have said the shooter opened fire as soon as they walked into Club Q around midnight on Nov. 19. Patrons at the venue then tackled and subdued the suspect until police arrived, according to witnesses.