Former Club Q employees struggle to claim money raised in their names
Mass shooting survivors clash with club owner, while fund requests are said to involve ‘a humiliating process’
Ashtin Gamblin, a former Club Q employee and survivor of a shooting at the club, poses with her cat, Nyx, on Feb. 25, 2023, at her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Gamblin was shot nine times while working the front door of the club. She is wearing a new version of the hoodie she was wearing the night of the shooting. She originally got the hoodie from a concert with Derrick Rump, who was killed in the shooting. (Rachel Woolf for Colorado Newsline)
Former Club Q employees don’t want to return to the club when it reopens after they say they received “a small fraction” of the money raised specifically for club staff and victims of the deadly November mass shooting in Colorado Springs.
According to accounts of several staff members, Club Q owner Matthew Haynes has given most former employees less than $1,000 while others did not receive anything from a GoFundMe that raised more than $55,000 for staff and performers after the shooting.
Hysteria Brooks worked at Club Q as a show producer and drag performer for the past two years and arrived at Club Q as first responders were triaging victims. She said in the days following the shooting, Haynes gathered with his staff at a club manager’s house and told them he would take care of everyone.
“He was going to make sure that we were all OK financially, and we trusted him,” Brooks said. “For many Club Q employees, they entrusted that wholeheartedly and they were refusing help in the first month or two months.”
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Tiara Latrice Kelley also worked as a producer and drag performer at Club Q and started her own GoFundMe for a benefit show she was hosting for victims and survivors shortly after the shooting. But because the GoFundMe had Club Q in the title, she said Haynes asked her to sign it over to him, which she did because he agreed to distribute the funds fairly.
Kelley noted, though, that prior to the shooting, most Club Q staff didn’t even know what Haynes looked like, as he lives full-time overseas in the United Kingdom.
“The fact that now he shows up and tries to act like he’s been on the forefront of this, he’s this community guy, and he’s not, he really isn’t,” Kelley said.
Right before the holidays hit at the end of 2022, though, Brooks said former staff started to wonder if they would get any funding before Christmas, as Haynes was “leaving everybody in the dark.” Through her role with the United Court of Pikes Peak Empire, the oldest LGBTQ organization in southern Colorado, Brooks said other members of the organization’s chapters throughout North America donated to support the local court following the tragedy, which led to staff members each getting $500 before Christmas.
After the holidays, Brooks said Haynes was still traveling around the country without communicating when the staff would receive help. She said people needed money as they were out of work and racking up new bills for therapy and doctor appointments.
Former staff soon learned from a Club Q Facebook post in mid-February that Haynes planned to distribute funding to employees based on their average earnings over a three month period. Brooks and Kelley both said the amount of money staff received under Haynes’ three-month average salary system is “laughable,” with most employees receiving less than $1,000. Kelley said the funding she got was closer to the amount she’d earn for three shows, not including tips.
“He genuinely thinks that this money is supposed to make up for the physical trauma, the emotional trauma, the mental trauma that followed the three months of the shooting, and it’s supposed to keep us going for months,” Brooks said.
Haynes did not respond to multiple requests from Newsline for an interview or comment on plans to reopen and distribute money raised for staff and victims.
‘A lot of disconnect’
Ashtin Gamblin was working the front door at Club Q the night of the shooting and was shot nine times in both her arms, resulting in broken bones on both sides. She said she isn’t healing, and that she isn’t in the mindset to work even if she could, with her continued inability to use one of her arms.
“The only reason I don’t have any bullet wounds in my torso is because Daniel (Aston) was in front of me,” Gamblin said. Aston was 1 of 5 people killed in the Nov. 19 shooting.
He genuinely thinks that this money is supposed to make up for the physical trauma, the emotional trauma, the mental trauma that followed the three months of the shooting, and it's supposed to keep us going for months.
– Hysteria Brooks, former Club Q show producer and performer
Gamblin received $981 from Haynes’ GoFundMe based on his three-month salary estimate, and her only consistent income is the $183 she gets from workers compensation every two weeks. She doesn’t think total funds distributed from ownership across all employees is more than $10,000, she said. She also said Haynes hasn’t given any money from the GoFundMe to the families of the five people who died the night of the shooting.
“It wasn’t my owners that called my husband or my mother,” Gamblin said. “They didn’t come see me in the hospital. They didn’t try … There’s a lot of disconnect with how they sound like they want to look like they care, but there isn’t that full connection of them actually caring.”
Speaking out about the issues that victims are facing with accessing funds raised in their names is all that is making Gamblin feel better lately, she said.
Seeking help elsewhere
Soon enough, former Club Q staff members connected with Bread and Roses, a queer-led nonprofit legal center based in Denver. Brooks said the organization has helped “tremendously” with supporting staff and victims, particularly with accessing money from the Colorado Healing Fund.
“We have a pretty clear sense that when horrible things happen, there are people who are totally generous and who will do anything they can to help, and then there are also people who will use it as an opportunity to either make money or cause harm,” said Z Williams, co-founder and director of client support and operations at Bread and Roses.
The partnership between Club Q staff and Bread and Roses resulted in a joint letter asking Haynes to release 75% of the funds raised in a lump sum for staff to distribute according to the system they created. The letter says Haynes informed staff they were no longer employed at Club Q through a Facebook post announcing future plans to renovate and reopen.
“This is but one of many slaps in the face for his grieving employees and contractors as well as the community at large,” the letter reads. “Matthew chose to reopen Buddies — a bathhouse that shares the wall with Club Q — a mere 3 weeks after the shooting. Patrons have to step over the Club Q memorial to access the bathhouse.”
Brooks said Haynes has kept the reopening of Buddies out of the public eye because he “knows that he would receive backlash for it.” Kelley said Haynes directly told her that he needed to reopen to make revenue and that there was a community who wanted Buddies to reopen.
Since the attack on Club Q, Williams said working with victims and survivors has become the largest part of their job. Bread and Roses also started a mutual aid fund called Queers for Q that’s raised over $100,000 so far, which the organization uses to support victims with no strings attached.
“People ask for it and we provide it … We believe that survivors know what they need and it’s our job to make sure they get it,” Williams said. “Surviving a tragedy is very expensive, both in terms of the cost of health care and mental health care, but also in terms of, sometimes you don’t feel like cooking and you need to be able to DoorDash, or you need to get out of town and see your loved ones.”
Kelley said the fact that other places were supporting former staff was another reason Haynes gave for not immediately distributing the money.
“We shouldn’t have had to go anywhere else to have people help us out. He had the means and the resources,” Kelley said about Haynes. “Second of all, it doesn’t matter who else helped us out — when people donated money to those causes, they donated it for the staff, the victims and the families, not for building, not for Matthew to stack his pockets. They donated it for us, so it’s just right that it should go to us.”
Brooks said that the GoFundMe from which Haynes continues to hold funding was advertised by Club Q as the official GoFundMe “to support staff, performers.” The GoFundMe’s description says it is managed by Club Q directly and will ensure staff “don’t suffer financial hardship due to this horrific act,” and that remaining funds would go toward an official memorial for Club Q victims and remodeling.
... When people donated money to those causes, they donated it for the staff, the victims and the families, not for building, not for Matthew to stack his pockets. They donated it for us, so it’s just right that it should go to us.
– Tiara Latrice Kelley, former Club Q show producer and performer
Williams said they’ve heard “pretty clearly” from families who lost loved ones in the shooting that they don’t want a memorial built at Club Q, especially without their input “and not in this way.”
“A memorial is for the loved ones of the people who died. It’s not public art for business or anything like that,” Williams said. “I’ve heard and I’ve seen really clearly a desire for the employees to also make sure that those who died are honored in the right way.”
All Club Q staff — with the exception of one who Brooks said is Haynes’ “right-hand person” — came to a unanimous agreement on how they would distribute the funding if they receive it, with a tiered system giving the most funds to those with the most severe injuries and medical bills. Brooks said all the staff are on the same page in wanting to make sure that those who need to be taken care of are taken care of.
“The people that gave money to that GoFundMe did it because they were under the impression that it was going to the staff and employees first, that we were going to be taken care of first and then whatever was left over for the building,” Brooks said. “Matthew has since switched that — the building will be taken care of first and then whatever is left over has gone to the staff and employees.”
Kelley said Haynes could have better handled the situation by directly speaking with his employees and finding out what they wanted and needed.
“It was obvious to us pretty quickly after the tragedy that Matthew didn’t really give a s*** about what we had to say,” Kelley said. “He could have really just listened to us.”
Accessing Colorado Healing Fund donations
Jordan Finegan, executive director of the Colorado Healing Fund nonprofit, said her organization doesn’t actively fundraise, but it exists for people to donate to victims of specific tragedies like the Club Q shooting.
The Healing Fund brought in over $50,000 within 24 hours of the Club Q shooting and over $200,000 within three days, Finegan said. Now, the healing fund has brought in around $2.2 million, with $1.9 million already distributed to 85 people including victims, family of victims and Club Q staff.
The money that has yet to be distributed, Finegan said, will be held for when survivors need continued long-term support. She said experts have typically found that the first, third and sixth years after a tragedy like the Club Q shooting are “extremely difficult times,” and if all the funds go out at once there won’t be any left for those who need it later on.
Finegan said the Healing Fund works with victim advocates and organizations with more “boots on the ground” like the nonprofit Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance to distribute funds. She said that ensuring victims only need to maintain contact with one person — the advocate they have already been in contact with — provides a sense of security and familiarity.
“The Healing Fund is not a direct service provider, and when it was created it was determined by the 20 plus experts that it will be faster and easier if the money goes to the direct service provider so the Healing Fund isn’t having to sort through every request, when we are a one person operation,” Finegan said in an email.
When Gamblin was being treated for her injuries, she said the hospital lost her wedding ring, which had been passed down from her great grandparents. She also had to buy additional supplies for her pets, who are all registered emotional support animals, as she wasn’t able to take care of them as she previously could without full mobility of her arms.
When she went through COVA to access the Healing Fund, Gamblin said she was denied reimbursement for the pet supplies and wedding ring. She said she had to argue with COVA over what is and isn’t covered after they had questions about what she was purchasing.
“One of the things that made me feel kind of normal again was to have a ring on my finger, and so I desperately wanted another ring, so I spent $700 on a band” Gamblin said. “They’ll tell the public that they can’t approve or deny an expense, but they do.”
Mari Dennis took over as executive director at COVA at the start of December. She said COVA doesn’t have its own victim advocates, but partners with advocates within local law enforcement departments and even at the state level when necessary.
She said advocates will bring her a form stating what kind of assistance a victim needs and how much, and then get a check either to the advocate or directly to the victim. For Club Q survivors, Dennis said she’s worked with advocates through the Colorado Springs Police Department, Bread and Roses, and the Colorado Health Partnership.
Dennis said the Healing Fund board wanted to know the kind of needs people wanted covered early on, and she kept them updated on monthly expense requests as they came in for their approval. She said if there’s a particularly unique request that comes in outside of a monthly expense, she goes to the Healing Fund for clearance. Dennis said she herself doesn’t have the authority to approve or deny any one expense.
Finegan said general requests are approved right away as long as there are funds to provide.
“Ninety-nine percent of requests have been and are fulfilled,” Finegan said. “But if they are out of the ordinary, we look at how it is connected to the incident and if there are other ways to pay for it initially if possible.”
Other ways could include payment by the hospital, workers compensation or victims compensation, Finegan said.
“We do not have unlimited funding, so requests that may not be granted for those various reasons ensures we’re able to provide as much support to as many victims as possible,” Finegan added. “But also this is why we issued this most recent large cash distribution so individuals can use it as they need.”
Sending the money to nonprofits is not sending the money to survivors — that is not synonymous. And what happens is that those nonprofits then become gatekeepers between survivors and their money.
– Z Williams, of Bread and Roses
Williams said the Healing Fund is a “failed model of response” to tragedies like the Club Q shooting, creating a “paternal relationship between survivors of violence and the resources they need to survive.” They said nobody knows better what survivors need than the survivors themselves, and holding back money to be used later is not in their best interest.
“Sending the money to nonprofits is not sending the money to survivors — that is not synonymous. And what happens is that those nonprofits then become gatekeepers between survivors and their money,” Williams said.
Part of their job at Bread and Roses is helping victims fill out the request forms so they can access these funds, and Williams said it’s “a humiliating process.” They said survivors are required to send financial documents so the Healing Fund can approve what the funds are being used for.
Finegan said if someone has additional needs recovering from the tragedy being fundraised for, “all they have to do is request the support through their advocate.”
Williams said there is no expert in any one person’s trauma, and having a panel of people deciding what to do with the funding is a disrespectful process that leads to retraumitization and revictimization. They also said the healing fund needs to be more transparent, as it hasn’t released any reports about what it does with the funding it receives and why.
“Their entire system is based off of ‘someone else knows better what people need,’ and I just fundamentally disagree with that and I’ve watched how much it changes people’s lives when you just give them the money,” Williams said. “One of the most important things that we can do is try and give (victims) as much a sense of autonomy back: You have the freedom to move, you have the freedom of safety, you have the freedom of choice.”
Building back the community
Club Q long held the title of the go-to spot for the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs. Since the shooting, though, the community has found support in new places.
“For the longest time, Club Q has been the safe space for the Springs for the LGBTQ community, and I think that in a lot of ways, Matthew depends on that being the case,” Kelley said. “But also, what I would like for our LGBTQ community to know is that there are other safe spaces and that we don’t have to be dependent upon Matthew and his mess.”
While Brooks hasn’t found a job, she’s continued performing shows, which she said has been difficult with her anxiety and PTSD. She’s also prioritized helping her friends and community make sure they have what they need to survive in the short-term.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve grieved yet,” Brooks said. “I feel like I’ve just kind of been advocating for my community and advocating for my bar staff and contractors to ensure that they all have everything they need to grieve and to be able to make it to the next month. I feel personally like that’s my responsibility right now as a pillar in my community.”
Kelley said she’s also just been trying to keep her head above water, and that thankfully there are many other venues that have been booking shows for her and other former Club Q performers to make some more cash.
Brooks said the Luxe Daiquiri Lounge opened not long after the Club Q shooting and started making a name for itself as the new queer spot in town. She said many of the former Club Q producers and entertainers have found a new home there, along with some of Club Q’s regular customers.
“The owners of Luxe are incredible people,” Brooks said. “They have taught us what it’s like to actually care about people from an owner’s perspective, because they have implemented security measures that ensure everyone’s safety. They have made sure that the staff and employees have a say in what security measures would make us feel safe.”
Williams reiterated that a bar just being a gay bar doesn’t inherently make it special. It’s the people who bring in regulars and make sure patrons have a good experience who do.
“A gay bar is not in and of itself a precious place,” Williams said. “It becomes that when it’s filled with people, and the people who worked there, who were the bartenders, the other staff who produced the shows and entertained — those are the people that made Club Q such an incredible place, and many of them right now are struggling just to know how they’re going to pay rent or get by while they’re also trying to recover from serious injury, trauma and the loss of their families.”
I know a lot of us are ready to wash our hands of Matthew and Club Q as soon as we receive the funds that were donated in our name.
– Hysteria Brooks
Brooks said most of the former staff don’t want to return to work at Club Q if it does reopen.
“Without the staff, without the people, I don’t want to go back,” Gamblin said. “They’re the reason I started working there, the reason I wanted to keep working there.”
Kelley said she can’t wrap her head around the idea of reopening the club at all, and that if it does she couldn’t bring herself to go back.
“I know a lot of us are ready to wash our hands of Matthew and Club Q as soon as we receive the funds that were donated in our name,” Brooks said. “The only thing that we want to see from Matthew is him releasing the funds to us for us to distribute in a way that we’ve all decided.”
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