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House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on anti-LGBTQ extremism and violence

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Survivors of the shooting at a queer nightclub in Colorado last month testified before Congress today. The hearing was called by a New York congresswoman who says violence against LGBTQ people is rising because of dangerous rhetoric. Colorado Public Radio's Caitlyn Kim reports.

CAITLYN KIM, BYLINE: Sitting behind an imposing oak desk facing members of the House oversight and reform committee, 25-year-old Michael Anderson recalled working behind the bar at Club Q when he heard the sound of gunfire.

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MICHAEL ANDERSON: I can still hear the rapid firing of bullets today. It's a sound I may never forget. It's a sound I hope no one here or anywhere else in this country has to hear.

KIM: He recounted how he panicked, how he prayed and finally how he said goodbye to a friend who lay dying on the ground.

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ANDERSON: I say all of this not because it's easy to do so but because it's important to do so.

KIM: It was a plea to lawmakers to do something about what led to the violence that night. The suspected shooter has been charged with 40 counts of hate crimes. Anderson didn't hold back his frustration or anger.

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ANDERSON: To the politicians and activists who accuse LGBTQ people of grooming children and being abusers, shame on you.

KIM: Committee chair, Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, sees the Club Q attack as part of a broader trend of violence and intimidation. She says that includes a rise in anti-LGBTQ bills in statehouses and in Congress, introduced mainly by Republicans.

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CAROLYN MALONEY: These hateful pieces of legislation have fueled dangerous rise in extreme anti-LGBTQI rhetoric.

KIM: Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the committee, denounced violence in all forms but pointed the finger back at Democrats.

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JAMES COMER: This is not an oversight hearing. This is a - blame Republicans so we don't have to take responsibility for our own defund-the-police and soft-on-crime policies.

KIM: Matthew Haynes, who founded Club Q over 20 years ago, says it's clear to him that his club was targeted. For all the loving thoughts and prayers sent in the aftermath of the mass shooting, Haynes also got hateful ones, which he read to the committee.

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MATTHEW HAYNES: And so I ask you today not simply, what are you doing to safeguard LGBTQ Americans but rather what are you or other leaders doing to make America unsafe for LGBTQ people?

KIM: He told the committee that the community needs the support of leaders like them now. So did James Slaugh, who was shot along with his boyfriend and his sister at Club Q. And he said that night was one of his biggest fears come true - rhetoric leading to violence.

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JAMES SLAUGH: Hate starts with speech. The hateful rhetoric we've heard from elected leaders in - is the direct cause of the horrific shooting at Club Q. We need elected leaders to demonstrate language that reflects love and understanding, not hate and fear.

KIM: The somberness and solemnness of testifying in front of Congress was a noted contrast to the celebration they all felt yesterday afternoon. The three men who testified were at the White House for the signing of the Respect for Marriage Act. Again, Michael Anderson.

ANDERSON: It's about balancing the joy of the celebration of yesterday with the passion and anger for fighting for change today. So...

KIM: Are you hopeful? Do you think anything gets done?

ANDERSON: Well, I'm not going to shut up until it does get done. So I hope they listen sooner rather than later.

KIM: In all likelihood, it will be later. This was the last full committee hearing before the new Congress is sworn in in January. So no legislation is likely to come out of the hearing. Control of the House switches from Democrats to Republicans, also dimming the chances for change.

For NPR News, I'm Caitlyn Kim at the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Caitlyn Kim