The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Colorado massacre cannot be blamed on mental illness. It’s rooted in hate.

In the wake of the Club Q shooting in Colorado, members of the LGBTQ community hold a candlelight vigil at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco on Sunday. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

After the shooting at the LGBTQ Club Q in Colorado Springs, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), gun rights advocate and representative for her state’s 3rd Congressional District, tweeted the following: “The news out of Colorado Springs is absolutely awful. This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers. This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly.”

In her tweet, Boebert left out the “news” that a lone gunman entered an LGBTQ space and began shooting, killing five and injuring at least 25. I’m betting Boebert did not mention these specifics because that would ruin her brand: the gun-toting, queer-hating, God-loving, outlaw whose job it is to own the liberals. If she had tweeted the specifics of the night and its tragic outcome, it might cause some of her followers to see LGBTQ people as human beings. And she can’t have that.

I don’t go to clubs and bars anymore. But when I was younger, queer spaces were a lifeline. They weren’t just bars; they were shelters where I could escape all the judgment of the world. All the Christians who seemed to delight in telling me that I was hell-bound. All the pressure to be a “real man.” All the pretending to be someone I wasn’t, just to fit into a social order that I didn’t understand. They were, in short, places where I felt free.

Everyone should have such a place. For heterosexual people, that place is the whole wide world. For heterosexual people, that place includes public parks and restaurants and any street they care to walk down, hand in hand. But LGBTQ people must find — or more accurately — create those spaces. And because of the shooting at Club Q, there is, for now, one fewer place for the queer community of Colorado Springs to go.

You know who will get the blame for Colorado Springs, right? Each time these things happen, the right-wing go-to is to blame “mental illness.” That’s what some thought drove Robert Bowers to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to kill 11 human beings. That’s what others believed made Dylann Roof stroll into a Black church in Charleston, S.C., to murder nine human beings. And, sooner or later, conservatives will say it was “mental illness” that drove this newest killer of the marginalized to commit the latest atrocity.

But are we ever going to ask why so many supposedly mentally ill people seem to carry right-wing talking points along with their AR-15s?

It’s right-wing rhetoric that sparks these nightmares. And here’s the bonus for the instigators: The bottomless list of homophobes and transphobes on the right don’t need to throw the rock and then hide their hands. Instead, they use someone else’s hands entirely. After ginning up hatred for a particular community through fear, lies and conspiracies, all they have to do is sit back and wait for someone to do their work for them.

Boebert’s tweet about Colorado Springs on Sunday strikes a different note from the tweet she issued in August stating, “A ‘kid-friendly’ drag show in Texas was guarded by masked ANTIFA guards armed with AR-15′s. Remember, they only want YOUR guns. They want to use theirs to protect their depravity.”

So, the old “thoughts and prayers” line from Boebert on Sunday means little or nothing. And my guess is that she knows that. Boebert will continue, along with other conservatives, to spew the hate that gets the people they don’t like hurt and killed.

Already, queer people feel less safe in the United States now. I guarantee that those spaces where we feel at home in the world, the bars, the coffee shops, the clubs, will be emptier this weekend. The writer bell hooks once described queerness as “being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and that has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.” Hostility to that experience was on full display in Colorado, but it originates with people who have large platforms and loud microphones.

Nothing in politics is as effective as fear. And conservatives such as Boebert know exactly how to weaponize it. The conservative mind is more concerned that a drag queen is entering a classroom to read a story to children than a gunman is entering a classroom to shoot them. And I will never understand that.