Rabbi Caryn Aviv woke up on Sunday morning to her phone blowing up with texts and tweets asking if she was okay. The night before, a gunman had breached the walls of Club Q, a haven for the LGBTQ community in staunchly conservative Colorado Springs, leaving five people dead and at least 19 injured.
As the rabbinic and program director of Judaism Your Way, an inclusion-based Jewish organization in Denver, just about an hour from Colorado Springs, Aviv knew the days following the shooting would consist of her providing pastoral counseling and supporting those in her community. But besides her professional responsibilities, Aviv, as one of the few lesbian rabbis in Colorado, feels the weight of this tragedy on a personal level.
“I feel some degree of anxiety and lack of safety around being queer, being a woman and being Jewish. The shooting hit really close to home. I think for me and many, many Jewish queer people, it brought up the question, are we safe in the world?” Aviv says. “And do we fully belong in our society? And incidents like these really press our buttons about those two basic issues about dignity and safety in the world.”
Jewish people in America are no strangers to acts of hate in their safe and sacred spaces. October 27 marked four years since The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which left 11 people dead. As recently as this past Monday, New York law enforcement increased security at Long Island synagogues and other Jewish places after a man with a firearm, knife, ski mask and Nazi armband, threatened to attack a synagogue.
In 2020, there were 683 reported hate crimes against Jewish people and 306 against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigations hate crime data. In 2019, there were 963 hate crimes against Jews and 295 against LGBT individuals.
Aviv believes that the shooting highlights the need to increase security in LGBTQ spaces, similar to how Jewish places of worship have upgraded their security practices in recent years in response to acts of hate. Aviv starts planning safety measures for the fall High Holidays with the Denver Police Department and her organizations’ executive director, board and security team in February or March.
“The truth is, we’re not safe in the queer community when we gather in public spaces,” Aviv says. “And the access to military-grade weapons is so easy, that this is our wake-up call to strategize and organize and devote resources to our own security and well-being. I think it’s going to change the conversation in the queer community about security, and that is a bummer.”
Aviv also thinks that the Club Q shooting will bring both the Jewish and LGBTQ communities together to talk about security practices. Scott Levin, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Colorado, spoke at Monday night’s vigil and Aviv believes he will be working with community members in the coming months to share his knowledge about the topic of security.
“I think people recognize the need for this, and the Jewish community knows how to do it,” Aviv says.
Aviv was grateful to have felt the support of the Jewish community in the wake of this tragedy when they showed up in droves at an interfaith vigil for the victims of the shooting Monday night in Denver.
“I counted at least 13 Jewish clergy who showed up at the vigil on Monday. There were 4,000 people at that vigil, and the fact that so many of my clergy colleagues came to show solidarity and support was just amazing,” Aviv says.
Aviv says the most important thing that the Jewish community can do in the wake of a tragedy like this, is to reach out.
“Letting people know that you care means everything. Leaving your money to support queer organizations and Jewish anti-discrimination, anti-hate organizations and inclusion organizations. Love the people in your life who are out and proud.”