For more on anti-LGBTQ+ violence, see “Hetero-Terroism: The Backlash Against Gay Liberation” by Nicholas Powers.
What more horrifying way to usher in National Trans Day of Remembrance, a day of honoring and mourning the trans people who have been murdered in the last year, than to murder a few more just minutes before it began?
Shortly before midnight on Nov. 26, 2022, a 22-year-old white man entered Club Q — for two decades one of the only queer safe havens in conservative Colorado Springs, Colorado — wearing body armor and loaded down with weapons and ammo. He opened fire on the peaceful crowd gathered there for a drag show, killing five people and injuring at least 18 others in mere minutes, the worst anti-LGBTQ+ shooting since the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando, Florida.
The gunman could have caused far more damage — but he was subdued by Richard Fierro, a 45-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and received two Bronze Stars. Fierro was assisted by a trans woman (originally misreported as a drag queen) who pounded on the shooter with her stilettos.
Fierro was valorized for his actions, and rightly so. He was profiled by media on both sides of the political divide, across the country and around the world. President Biden called him to thank him. People are clamoring to award him another Bronze Star for his actions at the club.
But it quickly became clear that Fierro was not only being heroized for saving lives, but getting extra brownie points just for being straight.
The New York Times profile of Fierro, for example, received more than 2,500 comments lauding him. The top-rated comment, with nearly five thousand votes, typified the narrative, calling him a “hero” not just for taking down the gunman “but also for being man enough to bring his family to such a place to enjoy a show that so many others want you to hate.”
Wow, yeah, thanks for slumming it with queers. That makes you extra special.
Other comments, from well-meaning people around the internet, echoed similar tropes. People were far more excited to see a masculine cishet guy jump in to save queers than they would have been, or rarely have ever been, to see queers saving ourselves.
But of course, this is a narrative we’ve heard before. People love a member of the oppressing class playing the hero and rescuing the oppressed victim; people fighting for themselves and their people, not so much.
Dara Horn writes incisively about this trope as it applies to Jews and the Holocaust in her recent book People Love Dead Jews. Most popular Holocaust stories — think Schindler’s List and Kristin Hannah’s bestselling historical treacle The Nightingale — involve the righteous Gentile, the non-Jew who rescues Jews, though Horn points out that such rescuers amounted to only .001% of Christian bystanders during the Holocaust.
And audiences love the white savior, from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Driving Miss Daisy to The Help. Why is To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, so much more well-known than Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a book that tells a very similar story, pitched to the same age group, but from the Black perspective?
Why are we hearing more about the “hero” than about the people who were killed? Why don’t we know the name of the trans woman who helped him? And why do we know so much about the shooter (who I refuse to name in this article)?
Yes, Rick Fierro is a hero. Yes, we should buy out all the merch at the bar he owns with his wife.
But the stories we tell reveal a lot about us, as does who we are capable of seeing and heralding as heroes.
Let’s remember to pay attention to the people who live on the front lines, to appreciate the people doing the unsexy, unheroic day-to-day movement work. Let’s talk about giving a Bronze Star to turn-of-the-century labor activist Rose Schneiderman, or civil rights activist- turned-urban math teacher Bob Moses, or recently deceased lesbian activist Urvashi Vaid. Let’s remember Rusty Mae Moore, a trans business professor, bookstore owner and community organizer who provided shelter for trans people who would otherwise have been homeless, who also died earlier this year.
And most importantly, let’s remember those who died in the Club Q shooting.
Raymond Green Vance, 22, had been dating Fierro’s daughter Kassandra since high school.
Ashley Paugh, 35, leaves behind an 11-year-old daughter.
Derrick Rump, 38, had moved to Colorado Springs ten years ago in search of community; most nights found him surrounded by it, working as a bartender at Club Q.
Kelly Loving, 40, was visiting the area from Denver, a trans mother to many who had been pushed out of their biological families. She had been looking forward to gathering with chosen family for Thanksgiving.
Daniel Aston, 28, a trans man originally from Oklahoma, worked at Club Q as both a bartender and an entertainer. He had mischievous twinkling eyes and a “Mom” tattoo.
May they rest in power, and may their memories be for a blessing.