During the past year, Wendy McCown-Williams has noted how heated political discussions about the transgender community has affected her business.
McCown-Williams, a transgender woman, has owned a gay bar in rural Tennessee for six years and welcomed everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or political leanings. Drag shows have been a common occurrence at her bar, Temptation, often used to raise funds for charities.
But in recent months, McCown-Williams' business in Cookeville, Tennessee, has become a target of harassment.
"I've been at the location for six years, but over the last year I've had more disgusting emails and vile comments on my bar page," she said.
And after the recent shooting of a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado that left five people dead, McCown-Williams is wondering whether operating a gay bar in rural Tennessee is worth it.
"I don't know if I could live with myself if something happened," she said.
Targeted violent attacks have caused some owners of LGBTQ-friendly businesses to fear for the safety of employees and patrons.
At DRUS Place in Memphis, armed security keeps watch now on most nights.
Increased security at DRUS Place was a response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which resulted in more than 40 dead. More exits have been added, and new windows improved the field of vision for employees, who have been trained to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
"So (security) is really nothing new for us," DRUS Place owner Tami Montgomery said. "It is unfortunate that this is the world we live in, but the safety of our staff and customers is all that matters. We will do everything possible to make sure we continue to do everything possible."
At Temptation, McCown-Williams discussed increased security measures with her employees following Saturday's mass shooting in Colorado Springs.
Patrons will no longer be allowed to bring in large bags, and additional cameras will be installed, McCown-Williams said. Employees will also undergo additional safety training, she said.
But these measures might not be enough to stop "people from coming in shooting," she said.
On Nov. 19, a man wielding two firearms walked into Club Q in Colorado Springs and immediately opened fire, killing five people and injuring at least 19 others. The shooting suspect had evaded Colorado's "red flag" gun laws despite a 2021 incident in which he allegedly threatened his mother with a homemade bomb, according to The Associated Press.
Among the dead was a Memphis native, The Commercial Appeal reported.
Violence against the LGBTQ community may be a direct consequence of political attacks on transgender youth, drag shows and LGBTQ people in general, advocates said.
After the Colorado shooting, Tennessee Equality Project and Tennessee Equality Project Foundation on Tuesday asked Tennessee lawmakers to withdraw legislation targeting the LGBTQ community.
In the past few months, Tennessee politicians have introduced legislation aimed at outlawing gender-affirming care for transgender youth and filed legislation to criminalize some drag show performances.
Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.