PALM SPRINGS

Hundreds gather on Arenas Road in Palm Springs to honor Club Q victims

Erin Rode
Palm Springs Desert Sun

At least 200 people gathered in Palm Springs on Sunday evening to honor those killed and wounded during the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs on Nov. 19.

Mourners gathered between Hunters and Blackbook on Arenas Road, which serves as the center of LGBTQ nightlife in Palm Springs with seven LGBTQ-oriented bars and clubs. The road was blocked off for the event, and the Palm Springs Police Department placed four marksmen with binoculars along the rooftops overlooking the vigil, according to Palm Springs Police Chief Andrew Mills.

"The last thing that I would want is for us to have an incident, so I'd rather over-plan than not have a significant presence. So anybody coming knows that you might still have an intent, but you'll have a battle on your hands," said Mills. "What heightens the concern is incidents like at Pulse nightclub, at Club Q. We want to make sure that nothing like that happens here. So we'll take all the security precautions we can so that our community feels and is safe."

Bill Lohnes of Palm Springs embraces Vincent Corrales during a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs on Arenas Road in Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

Palm Springs police have increased their patrols on Arenas Road following the shooting, and the additional security will continue indefinitely.

Speakers at the vigil emphasized the need for stricter gun control measures, the importance of protecting safe spaces, and the resilience of the LGBTQ community in the Coachella Valley and beyond.

"We are here as the LGBTQ+ community this evening because of something each and every one of us knows: It could have been us. It could have been one of us," said Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton, who is the first openly transgender mayor in the state and only the third nationwide. "We all know because we have learned the hard way that we are targets, that we are folks that some people believe it is appropriate to hate because of who we are. But we are going to stand up together, and we are going to stand strong, and we are never going to back down."

Middleton also emphasized the importance of Palm Springs to the LGBTQ community, noting that the city is a place that "so many of us came to later in our lives, because we wanted to spend the rest of our life in a place that was safe, a place that was welcoming."

Members of the LGBTQ community in the Coachella Valley and across the country have been mourning the victims of the massacre, which took place at an LGBTQ nightclub that was considered a safe haven for the LGBTQ community in conservative Colorado Springs. The shooter killed five people and injured more than a dozen others. He is being held without bail following a court appearance Wednesday, and facing murder and hate crime charges. 

Desert Stonewall Democrats organized the vigil, and speakers in addition to Middleton included local drag performer Sabryna Williams, Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Grace Garner, U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, and newly elected Coachella city councilmember Frank Figueroa.

U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz speaks in response to the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs during a vigil on Arenas Road in Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

Figueroa said he made history in Coachella this month by becoming the "first openly out councilmember in the city."

"The LGBTQ community is across the valley, and we come here to this place — Arenas — to be with our community, and to be in a safe space. So when tragedies like this happen, it hits home," said Figueroa.

The Club Q shooting marked the second mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in the past six years. In 2016, a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 

"We should not have to worry going into our safe spaces to try to find the nearest exit instead of going straight to the dance floor or the bar," said Williams.

The Club Q shooting was just one of several fatal mass shootings in the U.S. over the past few weeks. On Nov. 13, a gunman killed three students at the University of Virginia, and on Tuesday a Walmart supervisor in Virginia fatally shot six colleagues inside the store. The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings with at least four victims shot — either injured or killed — has tallied over 600 such incidents so far in 2022.

Adam Cafege of Palm Springs recites the names of the five individuals killed in the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs during a vigil on Arenas Road in Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.

"Society has taken a gamble with making it easy, if not as easy as it could possibly be, for angry people to get guns and get more heavily armed. This is a recipe for disaster that is going to cause more deaths until we recognize that not everyone has a right to walk into an arsenal and pick out whatever military-grade weapon they happen to think looks cute, and walk out with it armed to the tee," said Middleton.

Ruiz highlighted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed by President Joe Biden this summer, which provides funding for states that enact red flag laws, among other protections, and expressed support for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which was passed by the House in March and remains stalled in the Senate.

"That would give law enforcement more time to conduct background checks to make sure that people who shouldn't have guns don't have guns. And there is no reason why an AR-15 should be in the hands of young men and women," said Ruiz.

The vigil closed with a reading of the names of Club Q victims and a moment of silence.

"I am shocked. I am disgusted. I am terrified," said local drag performer Bella da Ball toward the end of the program. "We deserve to live."

A participant holds a candle close while listening to public leaders speak in response to the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs during a vigil on Arenas Road in Palm Springs, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.