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Drag Queen Who Lost Friends at Club Q and Pulse Tells Anti-LGBTQ Lawmakers Blood 'Is on Their Hands'

People 12/1/2022 Glenn Garner

Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post © Provided by People Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post

As the LGBTQ community reels from another senseless act of violence, many are once again looking to politicians to answer for the divisiveness they've sparked.

Tiara Latrice Kelley, a drag performer and producer at Club Q, is unfortunately all too familiar with the tragedy that came Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Colorado Springs, Colo., nightclub, when a gunman killed five people in a mass shooting, including two of Kelley's friends.

"Pulse was one of the first clubs I ever performed at," Kelley tells PEOPLE of the Orlando establishment where 49 people were killed in another shooting in June 2016, making it the deadliest mass shooting in American history at the time.

RELATED: Remembering the Victims of Colorado Springs LGBTQ Nightclub Shooting, as Suspect Faces Hate Crime Charges

After she got sick and had to miss out on supporting a drag sister's act at Club Q on the night of the shooting, Kelley recounts avoiding the Pulse shooting in almost the "exact same way" as she got some "super good" weed that night and passed out early.

"I say it all the time, but that was the night that weed saved my life, because we ended up passing out on the couch fully dressed and everything. We were ready to go," Kelley recalls with a laugh.

Colorado Springs Police Department Kelly Loving, Raymond Green, Ashley Paugh, Daniel Davis Aston and Derrick Rump © Provided by People Colorado Springs Police Department Kelly Loving, Raymond Green, Ashley Paugh, Daniel Davis Aston and Derrick Rump

She notes that Pulse co-founder Barbara Poma, who helped launch the club in memory of her late brother who died of AIDS, was "one of the first people to reach out" after the Club Q shooting, along with Pulse survivor Neema Bahrami.

They will both join Kelley in co-hosting An Evening of Just Love, a Club Q benefit show on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Colorado Springs Auditorium.

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Having gone through this experience before, Poma tells PEOPLE that the anti-LGBTQ hatred that led to the shooting at Pulse is "even more relevant now, which is really heartbreaking."

"My first reaction was complete and utter shock and just disbelief that this would be happening again," Poma says of Club Q, noting that after she cried at the news, "I finally just got angry. I think we're tired, and I think we're angry of waking up to this news."

RELATED: Colorado Springs Authorities Say 'Heroic' Patrons Stopped Shooter at LGBTQ Nightclub

Poma and Kelley agree that their anger should be pointed toward anti-LGBTQ politicians responsible for the recent "Don't Say Gay" laws and "groomer" rhetoric over providing gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

As Kelley puts it: "The blood of all of those people at Pulse and the blood of my friends and family here at Club Q and any incident like this that happens afterward is on their hands."

"Whether they acknowledge that or not, their rhetoric and their words are the reason why people feel empowered and [emboldened] to do these types of things, so just shut up and do something," Kelley continues. "Make some changes."

Poma says that the state-sponsored bigotry "needs to stop because it gives hate groups license to behave this way" and "make [LGBTQ people] targets," adding: "That's what happened. It has empowered hateful rhetoric."

David Zalubowski/AP/Shutterstock © Provided by People David Zalubowski/AP/Shutterstock

"The LGBTQ community is a very unified, it is a very loving, it is a very strong community, who just wants to be accepted and not othered. Everyone needs to belong somewhere," Poma adds.

A study published in September by Hate Free Colorado found that 28% of adults in the state have experienced a hate crime in the last five years, but only 18% of those people reported it to the police. The study also found that Coloradans who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer were more than 1.5 times as likely to have experienced a hate crime, and between a third and a half of transgender and gender-diverse Coloradans experienced a hate crime.

RELATED: The Colorado Springs Shooting Is Latest in Long Line of Attacks at LGBTQ Establishments

One of the most vocal lawmakers in the recent right-wing war against LGBTQ rights is Colorado's own Rep. Lauren Boebert, who recently won reelection in an extremely tight race.

In addition to arguing that "the church is supposed to direct the government," the Republican lawmaker and gun rights activist has suggested that LGBTQ kids should be required to wait until they're 21 to come out.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Rep. Lauren Boebert © Provided by People Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Rep. Lauren Boebert

Although her office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, Boebert previously released a statement in the wake of the Club Q shooting that was quickly scrutinized by the likes of Chasten Buttigieg, Roxane Gay and Shea Couleé.

"The news out of Colorado Springs is absolutely awful. This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers. This lawless violence needs to end and end quickly," she shared on Twitter.

She has since doubled down on avoiding blame, claiming last week on Colorado's KOA radio station that she "never had bad rhetoric towards anyone and their personal preferences as an adult," instead claiming her issues are with the "sexualization of our children" and "men dressing up as caricatures of women."

RELATED: House Republicans Target LGBTQ People with National 'Don't Say Gay' Bill

Meanwhile, LGBTQ rights are continuously debated by lawmakers as President Joe Biden continues to urge Congress to pass the Equality Act. On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act, with 12 Republican senators voting to uphold protections for same-sex marriage.

The alleged Club Q shooter, identified as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, is facing five preliminary charges each of murder and bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury. The suspect is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 6.

Aldrich's attorney has since filed court documents claiming that their client is nonbinary, uses they/them pronouns, and "will be addressed as Mx. Aldrich," according to multiple outlets. District Attorney Michael Allen said that Aldrich's gender identity would not affect how they prosecute the case.

Aldrich's neighbor Xavier Kraus told NBC 9 that Aldrich never mentioned being nonbinary before, but "just expressed he didn't like the LGBTQ community."

RELATED VIDEO: 5 Dead, 18 Injured in Shooting at LGBTQ Nightclub in Colorado: We Are 'Devastated'

Kelley describes Colorado Springs as a "conservative area," with the headquarters for anti-LGBTQ Christian organization Focus on the Family located just 20 minutes away from Club Q, which she previously thought of as a safe space. "That night I came, I fell in love with it. Everybody was so amazing," she says of her first visit.

"We need people to really be faced with what's happening and to realize that we're human beings. Both of these instances, all these people were doing was trying to have a good time," Kelley says. "They were dancing. They were having a good time and enjoying their lives. If that's a crime, then aren't we all guilty of it?"

To help those impacted by the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, donate to the Colorado Healing Fund.

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