Former Club Q workers and its owner are in a dispute over donations

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Ashtin Gamblin, a Club Q survivor, and her husband Ryan (Photo by Bryan Oller)

When Ashtin Gamblin opened a can of Red Bull last week, it was a milestone.

Gamblin was shot nine times while working the front door during the attack on Club Q in November. She was hit in both of her arms and her left breast and still struggles with the basics — using her hands, fingers and wrists — because of nerve damage in her arms.

“It’s been a very long and difficult road, because I can’t do things that normal people can do,” Gamblin tells Sixty35.

She also struggles with survivor’s guilt knowing that Daniel Aston, one of the club’s beloved bartenders who was working beside her, didn’t make it. Aston was one of five people killed by the gunman, who prosecutors believe was motivated by hate for the LGBTQ community.

There’s a seemingly endless list of additional care Gamblin needs and costs she faces because of the attack. And in its immediate aftermath, there appeared to be multiple endeavors meant to take care of victims financially: through online crowdfunding efforts, charity events and sanctioned fundraisers that were set up for that purpose. The Club Q tragedy led to people across the country donating millions of dollars to support those affected by the attack.

But some victims are saying they’ve had to jump through hoops to get those funds — and oftentimes, they’ve been denied them, according to Gamblin, family members of those killed and injured, and former Club Q employees and contractors. They’re speaking out against what they say are organizations and individuals “gatekeeping” money intended for them.

The survivors — people who were present and/or hurt the night of the attack, their families and those who lost work and income as a result — have specifically denounced the Colorado Healing Fund, which is the officially sanctioned fundraiser for those affected by the attack, and Club Q owner Matthew Haynes, for how they are handling donated money.

“There’s not really time to cope right now,” Gamblin says. “With everything that’s going on, it is constant ‘go mode.’ You don’t get time to heal, because you’re constantly in a doctor’s appointment or therapy appointment, or speaking out.

“But it’s something that you have to do as a victim,” she says. “There’s so many things that are happening to us that are unfair and unjust, that we can’t just sit down.”

It was nearly three months after the attack when former Club Q workers began to see some of the more than $55,000 raised through a GoFundMe set up by Haynes on Nov. 28, in part “to ensure the Club Q staff and entertainers don’t suffer financial hardship due to this horrific act.” CHF, which collected $2.2 million for the survivors, claims that it has paid for nearly every attack-related cost for which survivors applied.

But Gamblinhas been struggling to secure the financial help she believes she was promised while going through a difficult recovery. She can’t work her full-time job without functioning hands, and she faces a consistent stream of new bills.

Gamblin is in physical therapy and psychological therapy and has hired an in-home caregiver for when her husband  Ryan — a U.S. Army sergeant stationed at Fort Carson — is at work. Her wedding rings, family heirlooms, were somehow lost at the hospital after the attack, and she’s fought with both the hospital and CHF about who’s financially responsible.

She’s still trying to get her 3-month-old hospital bill covered, since Tricare won’t pay it and workers’ compensation hasn’t yet. Then there’s the cost of the home security system that helps curb her severe anxiety.

An X-ray of one of Gamblin’s arms (Photo by Bryan Oller)

Club Q owner Haynes was criticized after announcing on Feb. 13 that he would distribute the GoFundMe money using a formula based on how much staff on payroll and independent contractors — who are primarily producers and drag performers — made before the club shut down. They were each given three months’ worth of the monthly average they made at Club Q, according to Haynes, who believes it was the fairest way to split the funds that he’s not using for club renovations, including a memorial to the victims and enhanced security.

Several workers received deposits on Feb. 15, but say it was only a small fraction of the total amount raised. As a group, they had demanded they get 75 percent of the fund and be able to determine how it’s distributed amongst themselves.

Gamblin tells us she’s gotten a “measly” $732 total in workers’ compensation checks since the Nov. 19 attack, and received $981 from the $55,000-plus GoFundMe — “$109 per bullet” that entered her body, she says.

And according to Hysteria Brooks, a producer who performed drag at Club Q for two years, less than $10,000 of the fund had been distributed to workers as of our press deadline on Feb. 16. (Haynes would not confirm the total figure with us and says it’s not “relevant,” but claimed it’s “certainly greater than that figure they’re using.”) 

The entertainers who we reached received less than Gamblin under Haynes’ chosen disbursement fomula. They had signed agreements with a company called COS Entertainment Ltd., which is owned by former Club Q co-owner Nic Grzecka, and has the same mailing address as Club Q in state business records.

The contract, shared with Sixty35 by Tiara Latrice Kelley, who produced a drag show for Club Q shortly before the shooting, states that contractors earn $3 for each “entertainment fee” (cover) the club collects on the night they perform, with a max of 80 fees per night. That means the maximum they could earn in one night was $240, plus tips, Kelley says.

There’s not really time to cope right now.
— Ashtin Gamblin

CHF has been an additional hurdle for Gamblin. Reimbursement requests have led to arguments over who’s responsible for the costs (like Gamblin’s wedding rings, since it’s believed to be the hospital that lost them.) Adriana Vance, the mother of Raymond Green Vance, who was killed in the attack, says she’s struggled to get his funeral expenses paid.

“If they deem something isn’t covered, you have to argue with them, and essentially re-victimize yourself as to why that should be covered,” Gamblin says.

Jordan Finegan, executive director of CHF, claims that “99.9 percent” of reimbursement and direct payment requests have been covered. Funds have been distributed to about 83 people affected by the Club Q attack, she says, including victims, their families and former workers.

“We always look to, if the request is around the victimization and connected to what happened, and mostly everything has been paid for,” Finegan tells Sixty35. “There’s maybe like two things [that haven’t been covered]. But I can’t get into specifics around those because [of] confidentiality.”

Because of their challenges, Brooks, Kelley, Gamblin, Vance and other survivors are working with Bread and Roses Legal Center, a social justice-centered law and advocacy firm, which is helping them navigate the various funds and amplifying their demands that Haynes and CHF release the funds they believe they should receive. (Z Williams, Bread and Roses’ director of client support and operations, says the center is not representing survivors regarding their legal claims.)

The Panic! At The Disco sweatshirt Gamblin wore the night of the attack went missing. She had gotten it at a show with Derrick Rump, who was killed. (Photo by Bryan Oller)

Haynes in particular “has been prioritizing the idea of his business over the people that made his business something special,” Williams says. “Club Q is just a bar. It’s the people that were there — that performed there, that ran the bar, that built that community — who made it something special.”

Haynes’ GoFundMe description does state that funds will “go towards the total remodel of Club Q, the construction of an appropriate memorial for our victims and a small museum onsite.” But multiple Club Q workers and Erika Unger, Bread and Roses’ director of legal services, tell Sixty35 employees and contractors understood the fund to be meant primarily for them, and say they received assurances of that from Haynes in the aftermath of the shooting.

Haynes says the club has been consistent with how it’s characterized the use of the GoFundMe, and claims those upset about the distribution are a small minority attacking him.

The club is rehiring three staff members with some of the money, to work towards the club’s reopening, he says. The funds not used for current or former workers under Haynes’ disbursement formula will be spent on renovating the space where queer people in the Springs felt safe to be themselves, or may have met their partners, he tells Sixty35. It’s important to the local LGBTQ community that he restores that, he says.

“The easiest thing of course, would be for us to not reopen, but that is not an option,” Haynes says. “I need Club Q for myself; my friends need Club Q; my partner needs Club Q; my son, that is just turning 21, that came out gay — he needs Club Q. There’s somebody sitting there right now who’s not of age, and 10 years now, will need Club Q. Because unfortunately, parents still — family members and communities — still do not support [LGBTQ people] unequivocally.”

But Haynes has also downplayed the impact that the attack has had on people like Brooks, who weren’t present when the shooting took place, but are still finding it difficult to go back to their day jobs because of emotional trauma.

Haynes doesn’t consider them valid “victims,” he says, the sentiment shared by National Compassion Fund, a major donation organization for mass casualty events (although CHF considers anyone affected by the shooting, including any worker who lost wages, to be a victim.) Haynes says they’re trying to “money grab.”

“The loudest that are attacking don’t meet any of that criteria, but are doing their best to be victims and receive money for that. Which again, I find unfortunate,” Haynes says.

“…People that were shot have returned back to their jobs,” he says. “People that were in the building, and were true victims, with all that they’ve seen — they’ve returned back to work.”

Brooks says she’s now in therapy and on medication because of the attack. “Does he expect everybody to just be right back to normal after walking over our friends’ dead bodies, or trying to plug bullet wounds while waiting for police?” she says, adding she’s advocating for more GoFundMe money for people like Gamblin, who have a mountain of bills that haven’t been covered by other funds.

“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Brooks says, that Haynes is acting as arbiter of “who is more traumatized than the next person.”

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