Kristie Soares, assistant professor of women and gender studies and co-director of the LGBTQ Certificate Program, outlines resources, safe spaces and people’s varying experience of grief
On Nov. 19, 2022, five people at Club Q in Colorado Springs died in a mass shooting, renewing debate about the gun-violence epidemic and domestic terrorism, but there was another dimension to this shooting: Club Q is a well-established and beloved LGBTQ+ club in the Colorado Springs area.
Many members of the LGBTQ+ community have been left feeling scarred, fearful and violated, and with a lack of protections in place for this community, some wonder how LGBTQ+ students on campus process the event and find helpful resources and safe spaces.
Though the question has no simple, definitive answer, Kristie Soares, assistant professor of women and gender studies and co-director of the CU Boulder LGBTQ Certificate Program, hopes to start an open conversation on the campus about LGBTQ+ violence and provide students with support networks in a time of great pain.
“Most importantly, there is no correct way to feel after Club Q. You should feel you have space to cry, scream and get angry,” Soares added. “Emotions can’t be processed in a right or wrong way.”
Soares focuses their work in queer Latinx media and queer of color critique, specifically media representations.
“It’s interesting to examine not only negative stereotypes in media, but also how unintentional representation can become something radical, like when a character is written as cisgendered but becomes a queer character within the fanbase of a piece of media,” Soares said.
The LGBTQ+ Studies certificate program is interdisciplinary, meaning that students can take classes outside of the department to meet requirements, which opens up a wide range of courses and topics to study.
“As long as the course has more than 50% LGBTQ+ content, we approve that for the certificate. This includes classes with a large independent project component if you choose to do a project about LGBTQ+ issues,” Soares said.
The program is approaching its 30-year anniversary in 2025, but Soares said interest in the certificate has spiked in recent years.
“We’re in a really exciting and scary time for queer and trans people, and in some ways these very negative issues have reinvigorated people’s interest in studying the LGBTQ+ community and taking that with them into government and public-policy jobs,” Soares said.
Soares is working on a manuscript titled Playful Protest: The Political Work of Joy in Latinx Media and is passionate about “the ways that joy can be a response to severe trauma and state-sanctioned violence in marginalized communities.”
“There’s something very queer about joy,” Soares said. “We have a strong history of queer and trans people connecting joy to politics—Stonewall was an uprising, but it was also a bar where people were dancing and enjoying themselves.” (The Stonewall uprisings were a series of protests in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, in response to police crackdowns on gay and lesbian bars.)
Reflecting on the reactions to the Club Q murders on campus, Soares said joy and fear naturally go hand in hand, and there is room for all emotions.
“Recognize that this is a violation, and we don't currently have the protections that we need to guarantee that this won’t happen again—it is not unreasonable to be out in LGBTQ+ spaces and be scared.”
Soares emphasizes that there is no one correct way to grieve in these moments: “There are normative systems put in place related to grieving that just don’t fit for marginalized communities—when trauma is not the exception anymore, that grieving process is going to be more constant.”
“Despite this reality, there are many ways on campus to find safe spaces to feel emotions and talk to one another,” Soares said. She believes community spaces are the key to this; such spaces can be nightclubs but also knitting circles, book clubs or text chains.
“The great thing about these spaces is the joy that comes with them—it’s OK to laugh at something funny on a text chain or watch silly movies even though we are in a world in some ways defined by homophobia, transphobia and the trauma that comes with it—that’s a part of the experience of being queer and trans,” Soares said.
Queer Asterisk, a group of queer mental health professionals in Boulder, is a great place to start when accessing resources, she said. The group offers free digital support groups to process emotions and build connections and can connect students with free therapy.
On campus, students can find an array of resources and communities. “We have the Pride Office, which is a student services focused center, and the academically focused certificate program. These are all great options for returning students, students new to Boulder and students who may not have spent a lot of time on campus due to the pandemic and are still searching for their community here,” Soares said.
That’s the great thing about the CU community—there is faculty you can reach out to who are working on these issues but also identify as part of the community."
“We also have clubs like the Gay Student Alliance and Queer People of Color; both great places to make friends and find the joy that is so important in these times.”
Clubs and centers will individually host events, and there is also a TRANSforming Gender Conference on March 18-19, which will draw people from around the country and include discussions and workshops. Faculty gathered last year to do a panel discussion on their experiences as trans/non-binary folk in higher education, Soares said.
“That’s the great thing about the CU community—there is faculty you can reach out to who are working on these issues but also identify as part of the community. This can be really helpful, too,” Soares adds.
Grief is an ongoing process, one without a straightforward path. “When our day-to-day safe spaces are violated, that can be devastating. In those moments, it is even more important to find community,” Soares said.
“You do not need to go through this, or any other traumatic events, alone.”
A full list of resources can be found on the LGBTQ+ resource website.