Nov. 28-When a court filing last week revealed the person arrested in connection with killing five people at Club Q identifies as nonbinary and uses "they/them" pronouns, the public got its first indication that the suspect identified as a member of the LGBTQI+ community, scrambling the prevailing narrative around the attack.
It also prompted the question: If the suspect is nonbinary, why would an LGBTQI+ person attack their own?
The 22-year-old suspect faces 10 preliminary charges, including five felony counts of bias-motivated crimes causing bodily injuries, according to court records. Authorities have declined to characterize any potential motives beyond the arrest-only charges related to the shooting, which they emphasized are subject to change. The motions filed by the suspect's defense, which were released to the public on Nov. 22, address the defendant as "Mx. Aldrich," a title used by some people who identify as nonbinary. Nonbinary describes a person who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman.
Already, the narrative appears to have shifted to include speculation the suspect may have been motivated by self-hatred based on their LGBTQI+ identity.
Immediately after the shooting, the dominant narrative was that an environment of hateful rhetoric directed at LGBTQI+ people might have fueled the attack. State Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat and the first openly transgender Colorado legislator, made the point during an appearance on MSNBC.
"The last few years, we've seen an uptick in the number of bills that are anti-LGBT, and especially anti-trans, coming from states all across the country," Titone said.
To one licensed counselor in Denver, the answer to why a nonbinary person would attack the LGBTQI+ community is regrettably simple:
"Hate creates self-hate," said Kim Stromgren.
Stromgren said intolerance contributes to internalized homophobia and transphobia, which she said can breed violence when self-hate manifests as hate toward others.
Noting the details that emerged about the suspect's life, Stromgren speculated that gender identity doesn't matter as much as their apparently troubled childhood.
Reports show the suspect's upbringing had been marked by a biological father with a criminal history who dabbled in drugs and worked in the porn industry and a mother with multiple arrests in California and Texas. The two parents separated while the suspect was a toddler.
"We know that their father taught the shooter how to fight as a child, and then was out of their life entirely. We know that he was also pretty abusive toward the mother in terms of domestic violence," Stromgren said. "The gender doesn't matter. The fact is violence was taught to this person as how to live their life."
Stromgren added: "And I guarantee you they have tremendous layers of anger about that. Part of that probably is self-hatred for who they are in the world. And that, sadly, is a huge commentary on our culture."
The Human Rights Campaign said nonbinary people could identify as being both a man and a woman, as somewhere in between, or as falling completely outside of these categories. The group said while many also identify as transgender, not all nonbinary people do, and nonbinary may also be used as an umbrella term that encompasses identities, such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender-fluid.
It's not yet clear when Anderson Lee Aldrich first identified as nonbinary. When Aldrich changed names in 2016 in San Antonio, a Bexar County court filing signed by Aldrich's grandmother and step-grandfather used male pronouns for Aldrich. The suspect's mother, Laura Voepel, posted in a Facebook group in February asking for help finding a therapist for Aldrich, using male pronouns to refer to her child.
Stromgren's main concern is the public response to information about Aldrich's gender identity, not how the suspect identifies, she said.
Jeff Mack, of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, also mentioned the suspect's gender identity, saying it's interesting that both victims and the alleged perpetrator are LGBTQI+. He noted the foundation provides training to law enforcement on responding to hate crimes.
"That's going to be something that's going to be very interesting to follow," Mack said.