When I read about the murder of five people and the wounding of 19 others at a gay bar in Colorado Springs last Sunday, I was surprised at how deeply affected I felt. I suppose it was partly because I have a brother who lives there; I remember wondering if he or his family knew any of the victims. But I think it was also because I’m gay myself — when you belong to an out group, even one that has gained a measure of acceptance, you know an attack on any member of your group could have been aimed at you. Indeed, any violence motivated by the victims’ identity, be it race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender identity or another characteristic, is in a sense aimed at all members of that group.

Reading about the attack on a group of people peacefully enjoying a Saturday night out with their families and friends hurt because it seemed to say, “Your lives don’t matter. They — you — are worthless.” That is a lie, perhaps the worst lie there is in a society that claims all people are created equal and have a God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In the days since that incident, the news has come out that the Club Q shooter identifies as non-binary, using the pronouns “they” and “them.” Reporting I’ve read online quotes friends as saying the shooter was hostile to LGBTQ+ people and also to police. I am sure that Anderson Lee Aldrich, the suspect in the case, is as much in need of compassion and understanding as any of us, perhaps more so. I have very little idea what their life has been up to now, although news accounts say they were bullied as a teen for their appearance. I don’t know what went on in their mind to cause them to take the lives of five innocent people and permanently alter those of so many more.

And yet I’m going to presume to guess that Aldrich did not feel that anyone loved or cared about them, and probably lacks anyone they care deeply about as well. In short, life has probably given them the message that their life doesn’t matter, that they are worthless. And that is the poisonous nature of the lie: Once you take it in and make it part of your identity, it changes how you see other people, until no life is worthy. Or maybe you identify with those who have hurt you, believing that only by bullying others can you relieve the pain in your own soul. Or maybe it’s something completely different and my armchair psychology is worth what you paid for it.

This I am sure of: that people who feel loved, who have a sense of belonging somewhere, whose self-worth is rooted deep inside don’t hate and they don’t kill others who have done nothing at all to them.

I am glad that a veteran was there that night to overpower the shooter, almost certainly saving many lives. I am glad that police arrived quickly, and that the case of mistaken identity involving the heroic veteran was quickly resolved. I am glad that the incident was denounced by political leaders as the evil deed it was.

And I would add — to you, to all LGBTQ+ people and to Anderson Lee Aldrich — you are not dirt. You matter. What you do matters. How you live matters. Please live your life as if it matters. Because it does. More than anything else, living with an awareness of your effect on others matters.

Sarah E. Reynolds is a former editor of The Republican Journal.