D.C. Police increase patrols around LGBTQ+ establishments. Not everyone feels safer. In the wake of the shooting at Club Q, reverberations of the violence and its effect on the LGBTQ+ community were felt across the country — including here in the District.
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D.C. Police increase patrols around LGBTQ+ establishments. Not everyone feels safer.

As You Are co-founders Jo McDaniel and Rach Pike at their cafe and lounge in D.C. Sophia Moten/As You Are hide caption

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Sophia Moten/As You Are

In the wake of the shooting Saturday evening that killed five people and injured 18 others at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, reverberations of the violence and its effect on the LGBTQ+ community were felt across the country — including here in the District.

In the immediate aftermath, D.C. officials issued statements of solidarity, while activist groups and businesses planned fundraisers and self care events. Local organizations held a Monday night vigil in Dupont Circle in partnership with the Mayor's Office for LGBTQ+ Affairs. And the Metropolitan Police Department announced it would increase its patrols around LGBTQ+ establishments "citywide," though it said there are no known threats to any locations or events in D.C. at the time.

"MPD will continue to monitor the developments in Colorado Springs and share information with our local, regional and federal law enforcement partners," D.C. Police said in a statement shared with DCist/WAMU and first reported by CBS reporter Nicole Sganga.

The department also told DCist/WAMU that it hasn't heard from any establishments that don't want increased patrols. But based on responses online and interviews with some D.C. residents and bar owners, the picture is more complicated. Not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of increased law enforcement presence at spaces meant to be safe for queer patrons — understandable considering the long and well-documented history of police harassment and discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Zack Ford, for example, wrote on Twitter that he's "torn" about the increased presence of police. A D.C.-based queer activist and writer, Ford says the police department's use of tear gas in Lafayette Square and aggressive treatment of protesters on Swann Street during the racial justice protests in 2020 is still fresh in his mind.

"While I have a lot less reason to fear police, based on my identity," Ford tells DCist/WAMU, referring to being a cisgender white man, "I still do, because I see how many other people in communities that I intersect with have very legitimate concerns about whether police are there to protect them or to actually lower their sense of safety."

Like other people interviewed for this story, Ford says the flawed police responses to the Uvalde school shooting and the 2016 massacre at Pulse Night Club are proof that "increased patrols" after tragic incidents don't always make people feel safer. In Uvalde, police made mistakes that led to a delayed response, and it ultimately took 77 minutes to kill the gunman. It took Orlando police three hours to kill the shooter in the standoff at Pulse nightclub, a response that was complicated by a potential bomb threat, police said at the time.

As Ford wrote in an op-ed for Xtra Magazine this week, he'd prefer widespread condemnation of anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech and effective legislation over a more visible police presence.

Ford isn't alone in his unease about an increased police presence.

"I, for one, could personally say, as a gay Black male, I wouldn't necessarily feel safer with a police officer sitting next to me," says John Marsh, a show producer, drag queen, and manager of diversity and inclusion at LGBTQ+ bars Pitchers and A League of Her Own.

Marsh says, however, that just because he doesn't feel safer with more cops around doesn't mean everyone feels the same. "Obviously, there are benefits to having more of a [police] presence around."

Making his feelings more complicated, Marsh found out from a Facebook post that he personally knows a survivor of the Colorado Springs shooting — a friend from his hometown of Virginia Beach was shot seven times. "You want to encourage all our community members to stay strong," Marsh says. "It's very difficult."

John Guggenmos, owner of Logan Circle gay bars Trade and Number Nine, says that after the shooting, he received calls from Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto and the second district police commander. He felt comforted by the D.C. government's response, including the Dupont Circle vigil and support from local law enforcement agencies.

"If we lived in a district where we didn't have the type of representation we do, I'd say, 'Write your councilmember,'" Guggenmos says. "But my councilmember called. Brooke stands with us. You know, the commander stands with us. The city, the mayor stands with us." On a national scale, Guggenmos says he doesn't want to see well wishes, prayers, and support from elected officials — "You want them to vote on legislation that matters."

Guggenmos plans to hold a meeting with staff next week to review the bars' current safety procedures and possibly have an officer available to offer additional guidance.

Queer-friendly cafe and lounge As You Are co-founder Rach Pike says they are wary of the response from MPD.

"As You Are has really prioritized the most marginalized of the marginalized community," Pike says. "We aren't very keen on having police uniforms in and around the building, it doesn't make our patronage feel particularly safe because of the history of interactions with that public service ... What's helpful is training and talking to our community about, 'How do we keep us safe?'"

Even before the shooting, As You Are had already started planning a self-care event for Thanksgiving week. "Holidays are not always easy for our community, because family is not always easy for our community," Pike says.

When news of the Club Q shooting broke, it became apparent how necessary a safe space would be for their customers and friends. On Wednesday, As You Are's event will include craft-making, dancing, and table games. On Thanksgiving, the space will be open for karaoke.

Pike says they don't currently have plans to increase security at their Barracks Row location, but they might eventually organize an active shooter training for interested patrons. Pike and co-owner Jo McDaniel have always known an incident like this could happen at their two-level establishment, and they've had a safety management team on staff since they opened. A patron subdued the shooter in Colorado Springs, proof that "we keep us safe," Pike says.

Still, they have very real questions about what happens next:

"When we're in these spaces, how do we continue to be able to let our hair down and feel safe so we can enjoy ourselves, knowing that it's a very real possibility that something like this could happen?"

This story originally appeared on DCist.com.

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