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Police say they made an effort not to confuse Q Club victims. Here’s why it matters



CNN

Police Chief Adrian Vasquez took a fundamental but still relatively rare step by announcing the names of the five victims killed at Club Q, Colorado Springs’ beloved LGBTQ nightclub.

Instead of relying on ID or legal identifiers, Vasquez and the police department communicated with victims’ families through victims’ attorneys, who provided names and pronouns by which their relatives were known, Colorado Springs Police Department spokeswoman Pamela Castro told CNN in an email.

At a press conference earlier this week, Vasquez said he wanted to identify the victims “how they identified themselves and how their families loved and identified them.”

Using the right name is less like a thoughtful gesture than an obvious sign of respect for a victim and their loved ones. But many police departments have misinterpreted LGBTQ victims of crime, especially trans people, during investigations or press conferences. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that since 2013, police and media have confused 70% of trans people killed in violent attacks.

Colorado Springs shooting victims

  • The Colorado Springs Police Department identified the five people killed at Club Q as follows:
  • Raymond Green Vance (he/him)
  • Kelly Loving (her)
  • Daniel Aston (he/him)
  • Derrick Rump (he/him)
  • Ashley Paugh (her)
  • Advocates say when law enforcement or the media mislead a victim of crime, it can add trauma and pain to a community that is already grieving. It can also perpetuate violence against LGBTQ people and reinforce the belief that trans people’s identities are not legitimate. Showing the victims as they lived was a way to “represent them with compassion and dignity,” Castro told CNN.

    “Police, media and public officials have a responsibility to lead with respect,” Jay Brown, Human Rights Campaign senior vice president for programs, research and training, said in a statement to CNN. “There must be a willingness to learn more about the entire lives of those taken from us – with the goal of respecting and honoring their lives.”

    Granted, most people share varying degrees of personal information with family, coworkers, friends, and other acquaintances — and that’s perhaps especially true for members of the LGBTQ community. For some, hiding their name or gender identity may be a matter of personal safety or job security. This can make it difficult to discern whether the police and the media are using the correct terms to describe them. But the police making the effort to get it right, especially now when anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is rampant, is significant.

    Here’s why it’s harmful to abuse LGBTQ victims of crime and why it’s important that Colorado Springs police has taken steps to honor the wishes of LGBTQ advocates and treat Club Q victims with sensitivity and respect.

    Police often rely on official names to identify victims or suspects. But many trans people don’t use their legal name, though many still use IDs that incorrectly indicate their name and gender. Some trans people do not seek to change their legal name on identification documents due to economic or logistical barriers, according to the ACLU. Denying to recognize someone’s humanity in death “adds insult to injury”, according to GLAAD, “aggravating the tragedy by invalidating the person’s lived reality”.

    Misrepresenting a trans person as a victim of crime can also impede the administration of justice. In a 2018 analysis, ProPublica found that in 74 of 85 cases of murders of trans people, law enforcement referred to victims by the wrong name and gender. Incorrectly identifying a victim can slow down an investigation, confusing people who may have known her by the name she used in everyday life, the outlet reported.

    In 2018, after three black trans women were fatally shot in three separate cases in Jacksonville, Florida, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office repeatedly refused to refer to the victims by their correct names and pronouns, ProPublica reported. Referring to a trans person by a name they no longer use is often known as “deadnaming.” A man was convicted in 2020 for the murder of a woman, but the other two deaths have not been clarified.

    The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office told ProPublica it was following its policy at the time, identifying victims based on medical examiner’s reports and the victim’s ID card. The department also told ProPublica that it would create an LGBTQ bonding program.

    Many police departments lack specific training or policies for dealing with LGBTQ residents, according to a report on policing and LGBTQ people by the National LGBT Criminal Justice Task Force, Lambda Legal and the Center National for Transgender Equality.

    But even departments in cities with large LGBTQ populations, like the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Central Florida, can be negligent in their interactions with LGBTQ victims and witnesses: In 2018, during an investigation on the death of Sasha Garden, a black trans woman, the Sheriff’s Office misinterpreted her and used descriptions that LGBTQ advocates said were harmful, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department previously responded to the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed.

    The Orange County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment on their handling of Garden’s case. In 2019, Brandon Ragan, one of the department’s LGBTQ liaisons, told WMFE, the Orlando public radio station, that the department had made mistakes in its investigation into Garden’s death and would draw conclusions from it. lessons in the future.

    The shooting at Club Q came at a time when anti-LGBTQ sentiment continues to flare in the United States. More than half of US states have introduced legislation this year targeting LGBTQ residents, with a focus on transgender children and teens. Much of the legislation sought to limit trans youth’s access to gender-affirming health care or ban participation in gender-appropriate school sports.

    Many far-right groups have focused their attention on drag performers who read books to children at local libraries or other venues. Over the summer, members of the extremist group Proud Boys interrupted a drag queen story hour, and other groups have since protested the events or forced them to be canceled. Opponents of these events often use language that associates dragsters with trans people and dehumanizes LGBTQ people.

    Some conservative lawmakers and leaders have backed anti-LGBTQ legislation rooted in the same harmful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric espoused by extremist groups. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis championed and later signed a bill that year that earned him the nickname “Don’t Say Gay” because it banned some public school teachers from discussing sexuality or sex. gender identity with primary school students. When the Senate recently voted to codify same-sex marriage, holdouts included influential GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio from Florida.

    Brandon Wolf, Equality Florida publicist and survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting, said the Club Q killings were the result of years of hateful rhetoric toward LGBTQ people.

    “When you pump this demoralizing rhetoric into the atmosphere, when you overload the political environment to make it as hostile as possible towards LGBTQ people, someone has to pay the price,” he told Jim on Sunday. Acosta from CNN. “It may be a short-term political gain, but with our community, it has real-world consequences.”

    Police have not announced the suspect’s motive for the Club Q shooting, but they face five counts of first-degree murder and five counts of bias-motivated felony causing bodily harm, according to court records.

    Lawyers for the suspect in the shooting said in a court filing on Tuesday that their client was non-binary and used “they/them” pronouns, marking the first time the information was public. (At a press conference Monday identifying the victims, department officials refrained from using gender-specific pronouns to describe the suspect. continued to refer to the suspect using the pronouns “he/him” after the deposition indicating his gender identity. CNN has reached out to the sheriff’s office for comment.)

    Colorado Springs once had a reputation for being an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ residents. In the 1990s, the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family advocated changing the Colorado Springs Constitution to make the prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. The amendment passed and Colorado was dubbed “the state of hate,” according to the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum. The United States Supreme Court later struck down the amendment.

    But in the face of anti-LGBTQ discrimination and hostility, many Colorado Springs residents have established LGBTQ advocacy funds and groups, Colorado Springs Indy columnist Brandon Flanery wrote in 2020.

    Club Q was the only remaining gay bar in Colorado Springs at the time of Flanery’s article. (Icons, a downtown bar with singing staff, opened a year later in 2021.)

    Stephanie Vigil was just elected to represent Colorado Springs in the state legislature. She said she has seen and heard anti-LGBTQ hate speech from influential people in Colorado Springs. But the shooting at Club Q only reinforced a commitment to standing up for LGBTQ voters, Vigil said.

    “We will never, ever, ever stop being who we are”, Vigil tweeted. “We won’t fit into any closet. We will not accept violence against our community and extended families.



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