DES MOINES, Iowa — LGBTQ Iowans banded together in support and solidarity following the Club Q mass shooting at a vigil for victims on Monday.
The Blazing Saddle held the vigil at 6 p.m. on Monday.
"Every time one of these [shootings] happens, we send our thoughts and prayers," said Robert Eikleberry, co-owner of the Blazing Saddle. "Thoughts and prayers don't do much for the dead."
Eikleberry has been taking care of the Des Moines metro's LGBTQ community at the Blazing Saddle for almost 40 years.
As his community struggles with the loss, Eikleberry is glad to give them a place to mourn.
"A lot of kids don't have family they can go to so they rely on us. And we're gonna be here for them," Eikleberry said.
Annie Sarcon, who attended the vigil, said they yearn for a day where people in the LGBTQ+ community can live without being constantly targeted.
"It just seems like we just keep adding names to the column year by year," Sarcon said. "I yearn for the day when the violence will stop."
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people as a whole were up 51% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
Local advocates say escalating rhetoric around LGBTQ issues at the state and national level isn't slowing that down.
"What we've seen is that having conversations around whether or not an entire group of people should have the right to simply exist, is certainly not helping create a community," said Becky Tayler, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools.
As community members continue to grieve, many struggle to come up with the words to describe the loss, and they hope that this tragedy might finally be the last.
"We're all God's children. You all have a right to live and feel free. So let's keep it that way," Eikleberry said.
Another attendee of the vigil, Tahdi Fierro, said while its important to be alert and to remember those lost, young people shouldn't let these targeted acts of violence scare them out of being their authentic selves.
"This is a crazy time and it's horrible that we can't just exist and live our lives but don't let them stop you," Fierro said. "Don't let them silence you. You are valid, you are loved and you deserve to be heard."
Aside from hosting the vigil, Blazing Saddle will also be donating the proceeds from its monthly "Saddle Gurls" benefit show to Club Q victims. That will take place on November 23 at 11 p.m.