The Club Q Shooting: When Religiously Based Conservative Zealotry Destroys LGBTQ Lives

The Club Q Shooting: When Religiously Based Conservative Zealotry Destroys LGBTQ Lives

Figuring out the motivations behind these horrific actions.

CultureNovember 30, 2022 By Anton Sawyer

Ever since news broke that a bloodthirsty shitdiot took the lives of five LQBTQ youth (while injuring 18 others during the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs), one constant has remained for regular news cycle readers: high levels of shock and confusion. With the shock coming from the stories of carnage shared by those in attendance on that fateful night, and the confusion stemming from a statement made in court by the assailant’s attorney that they are non-binary and therefore use they/them pronouns—thereby killing members of their own community.

If they truly are non-binary …

In most cases, I believe whatever someone tells me about their identity without question. I know that to question anyone’s gender identity based on your own perceptions is not only rude but also in poor taste as well. Yet, in the case of shooter Anderson Lee Aldrich, there was one quote given by Leslie Bowman—a woman who formerly rented out a room to Aldrich and his mother Laura Voepel—that aroused my suspicions when it came to the legitimacy of Aldrich’s chosen identity status. In an interview appearing in the LA Times, Bowman said she found it hard to believe Aldrich identifies as non-binary. “I have only ever known him as a he/him. Laura only ever referred to him that way, as ‘my son,’” Bowman said. “There was never anything other than he/him pronouns and referring to him in the masculine.”

Given the fact that Aldrich and their mother rented a room (not a house) from Bowman, along with them having both been able to live a long enough duration to where Aldrich could make a homemade bomb—more on that later—it would stand to reason that Bowman’s statement would hold some weight. She would have been around them enough to notice a consistent use of the they/them pronouns to the point where it would strike some sort of memory.  

Immediately after reading Bowman’s admission, my mind went back to the very first thing I learned when I got into legal trouble at age 17 in the state of Wyoming for cannabis possession: get ahead of the charges. However, in the case of Aldrich, there’s nothing to get in front of. Kristen Browde, an attorney and chair of the National Trans Bar Assn., said that regardless of Aldrich’s gender identity, “one’s membership in a protected group in no way obviates the possibility that the crime the individual commits is motivated by hatred.” And all indicators are pointing in the direction that none of the charges will be lessened during the trial.

When I found this out and realized there was no strategic advantage to identifying as non-binary in the eyes of the courts, I dug a little deeper into the history of Aldrich. My research led me to find that in 2016 Aldrich was a target of online bullying over their sexuality and showed signs of a fascination with gay culture. Between the lack of legal advantage to their non-binary admission and their digital footprint, I am inclined to believe that Aldrich is being genuine and therefore a member of the LGBTQ community. This forced me to refocus my research towards figuring out why a member of this community would target their own? I then turned my attention to the upbringing of Aldrich and wasn’t too terribly surprised to see a trail of conservative/biblical carnage—literally and figuratively. Sadly, if Aldrich is living their life completely free of gender norms and constructs as they claim, then the shooting itself shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when you find the levels of religiously based conservative zealotry that permeated their life from cradle to present day.  

Before delving too deep into the history of Aldrich, it must be said that nothing written in this article is trying to justify their murderous actions. The writings in this piece are merely trying to figure out the number one question that must be asked whenever anyone commits such an atrocity as we saw at Club Q: “why?” I’m merely trying to figure out the potential emotional triggers that could have sent Aldrich over the edge; I’m in no way trying to justify their actions.

And when it comes to figuring out the motivations behind these horrific actions, let’s begin with dear old dad.

Aldrich's father Aaron Brink, who identifies as a religious and conservative Republican, made it clear in an LA Times article that he had voiced disapproval of gay people when Aldrich was younger. And at a different press event when talking to a reporter, Brink said he was relieved to know Aldrich isn't gay, adding: "We don't do gay" and, "Gay is bad." With this kind of father figure pushing such a closed-minded environment throughout their life, it’s no surprise that Aldrich changed their name in 2016 in an attempt to “protect himself and his future from any connections to [their] birth father.”

Sadly, Brink isn’t the only parental figure of Aldrich’s that used misguided conservative ideologies when it came to tackling the nuanced emotional gamut that can come from being an LGBTQ youth. In the months before the shooting, Aldrich’s mother posted in a Facebook group for women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asking for help. She asked in February for recommendations for a “trauma/PTSD therapist,” writing that it was for a “21-year-old,” the same age Aldrich was at the time. As a former member of the Mormon church and someone who is familiar with their beliefs and recent history with the LGBTQ community, I can promise you that if Aldrich’s mother wanted to truly help her child, she was barking up the wrong tree. But don’t take just my word on it. 

In a 2022 interview about the Club Q shooting, Mormon human rights lawyer Kate Kelly said, "I think the relentless homo-antagonistic rhetoric of the Mormon Church influenced the murderer's actions. Last year, Mormon Apostle Jeff Holland encouraged BYU [Brigham Young University, a private research university founded by the LDS Church] students to take up 'Muskets' against queer people.” Knowing these were the kinds of statements made by leaders of the church Voepel was looking to for guidance when it came to “helping” her LGTBQ child, it’s evident that whatever assistance Aldrich’s mother utilized in helping her child before the shooting had sprung from the same well that has been found to hold nothing but poison. Between these levels of suppressive thought influencing their mother’s parenting skill set, in conjunction with Aldrich’s prior violent tendencies, the tragic massacre of Club Q becomes an entirely plausible reality. Concerning these violent tendencies, the most notable comes in the form of a June 2021 bomb threat made by Aldrich against his mother.

Voepel reported Aldrich threatened her with “a homemade bomb, multiple weapons, and ammunition,” according to the El Paso County Sheriff’s office. In a Facebook Live stream, which Aldrich posted during the standoff, they were also seen wearing what appears to be a helmet and body armor. It’s also worth noting that Aldrich was never held accountable for this act as charges were later dismissed. When you combine this level of aggression with the equally toxic levels of mental duress they were under, it becomes clear Aldrich was a powder keg ready to explode with no apparent resources with which to get the help they needed.

We can finger point to all the politicians and religious leaders that have made statements that are a direct affront to the very existence of those who are members of the LGBTQ community all we like, but until we get real about the dangers of ignoring/mistreating the signs of mental health distress in our own homes, cases like Aldrich’s will continue to proliferate.

There’s one last fact I’d like to leave you with that shows just how paramount the fight for better mental health is in combating mass shootings. Though a 2022 study released by Columbia University Department of Psychiatry noted that the contribution of mental illness to mass shootings has decreased over time, still about 25% of mass shootings are associated with non-psychotic psychiatric or neurological illnesses, including depression, and an estimated 23% with substance use. These numbers make one thing clear: as long as we have people looking for 21st-century answers that require hard science in the pages of an Iron Age tomb like the Bible, no improvements for those suffering from negative psychological conditions can be made.