COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Josh Franklin grew up in Colorado Springs and was always unapologetically true to himself, but as a gay teenager, it was not easy.
"I remember an instance at homecoming that some people took it upon themselves to write profanity on my car," Franklin remembered. “It was really tough. It was in the 90s. It was when Colorado was deemed the 'Hate State'... All the more reason to come back here in 2020, and make a big statement, and embrace how much the community has grown.”
After his childhood, Franklin lived in New York City for 18 years, and was more encouraged to move home to Colorado Springs after seeing increased inclusiveness in a city historically known for being quite conservative. Franklin and his partner John Wolfe made the decision to leave The Big City and open a piano bar in Colorado Springs that caters to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I would come back for the holidays to stay with my family and they live right by Club Q. And so you know, the high school friends that I kept in touch with, it was sort of our holiday tradition to stop by Club Q," Franklin said. "They [Club Q] were nothing but kind when we had this crazy idea and continued to be very supportive.”
“They [Club Q] welcomed us into the community with open arms. They knew that we needed more spaces," Wolfe said. “We're well aware that we wouldn't have been as embraced as we were, if it wasn't for the foundation that Club Q laid. They've been such a staple."
Wolfe and Franklin opened ICONS in 2020, and said they are currently one of two LGBTQ+ bars in the entire city. The other one is Club Q.
“It was just really overwhelming. How do we as, you know, as the other queer spaces, how do we be supportive? But how do we keep people safe?” Franklin asked. “There's no protocol for this, you know, there's no right thing to do.”
Minutes before midnight on Saturday, police were called to Club Q after reports of a shooting. A gunman killed five people inside the club that night, which has always been considered a safe haven in Colorado Springs. Nineteen other people were injured, and 17 of them had at least one gunshot wound, according to the Colorado Springs Police Department.
“We just want to be there for the community. But overwhelming, I think it's the word. Angry, frustrated, heartbroken," Wolfe said with tears in his eyes.
On Saturday night, ICONS closed after hearing about the mass shooting out of an abundance of caution. The bar remained closed on Sunday to give their shaken staff the chance to take a breath. As of Monday afternoon, employees were setting up the bar and preparing to open for the evening.
“I can't imagine what our friends at Club Q are going through. I know how we're feeling. I can't imagine being in their shoes. And I don't want to and I shouldn't have to," Franklin said.
“When it's hard to keep going, sometimes it feels like you don't have a choice, because there's no other option," Wolfe said.
ICONS is a piano bar, and has always connected with the community through music. The co-owners said music is inherently a kind of love that anyone can feel. Now more than ever, they want to make sure that love is much louder than any hate.
“We don't want to be on camera. We don't want to be doing this. But it is important that people know that our love is strong and loud and important and deserves to be here. And we will be louder than the hate in the world," said Franklin.
Franklin believes firearms are ultimately the root of this issue.
“It is easy to hate right now. To hate the fact that people can get guns in their hands, who shouldn't have guns in their hands," Franklin said. “It's easy to go that route, certainly for me right now. But I think it's more powerful to look at the hope. Look at how far we've come and and not let this set us so far back that we can't move forward.”
Franklin and Wolfe said they are working to be a part of upcoming fundraisers for victims of the Club Q mass shooting. When those details are finalized, Denver7 will update this article.