Colorado Springs Shooting Is the Moment Mormons Dreaded

The fatal shooting of five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs on November 19 by 22-year-old suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich, a reported member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is something that Mormons were "afraid" would happen for some time, members of the religion's queer community told Newsweek.

"Everyone in the queer Mormon community was afraid something like this would happen because the dangerous rhetoric of Mormon leaders, combined with a highly armed population, is volatile," excommunicated Mormon feminist-activist and human-rights lawyer Kate Kelly said.

Colorado Springs shooting, vigil
Mourners outside of the Colorado Springs City Hall where a rainbow flag was draped over the building on November 23, 2022. The flag was hung in honor of the victims of a shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ club where a gunman opened fire on November 19, killing five people and injuring 25 others. Chet Strange/Getty Images

"As a former Mormon missionary, I recognize a clear connection between the murderer's actions and the church's teachings," Kelly said.

"In the Book of Mormon, there is a very clear story about how it's permitted—necessary even—to kill if that person would lead others to 'unbelief.' Nephi 4:13 clearly states, 'Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.'"

In a statement to Fox13 on Monday, a spokesperson for the LDS Church said the alleged shooter at Club Q was on the membership roll but "had not been active for some time."

The spokesperson added: "The senseless act of violence in Colorado Springs is of great sadness and concern to us. We are greatly troubled by any violence in our communities and condemn most especially violent acts that are the result of intolerance against any of God's children."

The spokesperson said it was "problematic" to blame Mormons for the action of a person who "did not exhibit signs of believing or associating with members of the Church."

The LDS Church, traditionally hostile to the LGBTQ community, has been making positive reforms in favour of gay people. In 2016, the church opened its doors to LGBTQ individuals. Three years later, it repealed a 2015 rule banning baptism for children of gay parents and saying that same-sex marriage should be punished with the expulsion from the church.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
View of the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) with its six spires in Kensington, Maryland, near Washington, DC, April 18, 2022. A spokesperson for the church confirmed Anderson Aldrich was a member. EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images

Though the church still considers same-sex marriage to be a sin, earlier in November, it supported the Respect for Marriage Act, protecting same-sex marriage. The church added that, despite the fact Mormon doctrine remains unchanged, LGBTQ individuals are entitled to rights.

However, former Mormons, including Kelly—who still considers herself a Mormon, despite being excommunicated from the church—believes that there is a link between the shooter's action and the church's traditional anti-LGBTQ stance.

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.

"So, you had one of the most powerful people in the religion, speaking in the most influential place, openly calling for violent retribution," she added.

Kelly was excommunicated from the LDS Church in 2014 after demanding women be ordained into priesthood within the church. Her website advocating for women to be ordained in the LDS Church, Ordain Women, still exists, and Kelly has not given up on her goal.

Newsweek reached out to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. and the U.K. for comment.

Queer author R.S. Thomas was raised Mormon until the age of 14, when he "emancipated" himself just before joining "priesthood," what he described as "the heaviest indoctrination of young men."

In his church, Thomas told Newsweek, "they didn't preach violent action against LGBTQ from the pulpit, they were something to be spoken of in horrified whispers, something to scare your kids with.

"Their very existence endangered children as they were all 'vile and horrendous predators.' Within my Mormon family, they were 'evil and an affront to God,' and violent action against any gays one might someday encounter was encouraged. God would want it that way," Thomas added.

Thomas said he doesn't know how much Aldrich was influenced by the Mormon church, but added that gay people are seen extremely negative in the Mormon tradition, as he experienced within the community in northern Idaho.

"I absolutely fear that something like this could happen again, especially with backwoods areas like the one I went to church in. The Mormons in Utah hate gays on principle, but the ones in Idaho, for example, are much more militant, and many of them embrace the gun culture," Thomas said.

"They practically owned my small hometown—Bonner's Ferry, where they just trashed the library for 'grooming'—with Mormons occupying almost all positions of authority, including police and elected leaders.

"Bear in mind, this was a small town, and there was absolutely no LGBTQ community within miles to attack. One teacher I had was merely rumored to be lesbian, and she was driven to move away.

"Nearby cities like Spokane were our version of Sodom and Gomorrah," Thomas added, "and many of my peers would talk about taking trips there to commit violence on anyone they saw. I was never included on one of these trips, but they absolutely took place."

Thomas said that the kind of homophobic rhetoric shared by the LDS Church had a significant impact on him, to the point that "the self-loathing that church instilled in me has affected my entire life," he added.

Aldrich's estranged birth father, former MMA fighter, porn star and crystal-meth user Aaron Brink, 48, has described himself as a Mormon and conservative Republican in a November 22 interview with CBS 8.

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."