From the constant hurricane of emotions to the seemingly never-ending process of actually coming out to friends, family members, co-workers and more, every out LGBTQ person knows how hard it can be to reconcile with their identity. But people often don't realize that the waves of affirmation that follow someone out of the closet can be just as powerful. For me and many other gay people, one of the most liberating steps is a visit to a local gay bar or club.
While I was admittedly a little intimidated by my first visit to a gay bar as a timid 18-year-old, newly out of the closet, my worries quickly dried up when I arrived and found a feeling of community that I was unaccustomed to. Think the bar from Cheers but with drag queens and go-go dancers.
From marriage equality to transgender people's basic access to public bathrooms, it can often feel like the most private details of our lives as LGBTQ people are up for public debate, so to step into a place where our identity is not just tolerated, but celebrated, offers a kind of relief and affirmation that can be nearly indescribable.
From the Stonewall Riots that propelled the LGBTQ civil rights movement as we know it today to the arson attack at the UpStairs Lounge in 1973 and the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub last summer, the events surrounding gay bars and clubs have served as the cornerstone of LGBTQ history in the United States. Unfortunately, across the country they are starting to vanish at an alarming rate. From the Lexington Club in San Francisco's Mission District to The Roxy in New York City, even some of the country's most popular gay bars are struggling or going under completely.
The country may look at Colorado Springs and see a hotbed of religious conservatism and anti-LGBTQ beliefs, but the inside of our community spaces tells a different story of what it means to live and love in Colorado Springs.
For the past 14 years, Club Q has stood as one of the only gay bars in Colorado Springs (along with V Bar and The Underground), and owner Nic Grzecka says that they have already seen drastic changes over the years. The Internet has come to offer LGBTQ people the privilege of easy access to community spaces and friendships both online and in person, but this is a relatively new phenomenon.
Before the LGBTQ community found its roots online, gay bars and clubs were some of the only spaces where members of the community could go to find a sense of friendship, camaraderie, and even a feeling of family. "The need for the gay bar has changed over the past 30 years. You used to have to go there to meet someone, but now you have Grindr, you have Tinder," says Grzecka.
But the Colorado Springs LGBTQ community is no stranger to changing times, especially after the Colorado Springs Pride Center shut its doors in early 2015. After 37 years of service to the community, the local Pride Center was one of the oldest in the United States, and its closing left many LGBTQ people wondering what lay ahead for the community.
Despite the loss, local activists formed community groups and have fought hard over the past two years to maintain annual events that had been produced by the Pride Center such as the Colorado Springs PrideFest. Grzecka sees this as a source of hope.
"When I started going to Pride in Colorado Springs it was just the gay community and a few outspoken allies, but it's grown so much since then," says Grzecka. With Colorado Springs PrideFest gathering over 50,000 attendees in 2016, there is no doubt that the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs has remained resilient and continues to grow. So even with the issues facing gay clubs and bars across the nation, Grzecka isn't losing sleep over Colorado Springs. "We don't plan on going anywhere," he says.
While I don't know where I would be without the feeling of belonging that I first found at Club Q, I'm certainly glad that it will be there for other timid 18-year-olds to help them find a sense of community like I did.