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After Orlando, LGBT People Angered at Not Being Heard

Jean Dasilva sits next to a makeshift memorial for the victims of Sunday's mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando nightclub as he mourns the loss of his friend Javier Jorge-Reyes Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

The weekly British TV program “Sky Press Preview” is supposed to be a relatively sedate look at the week’s top news as reflected in the nation’s newspapers, sprinkled with a bit of opinion.

But in the emotional wake of the mass shootings at Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub, opinion quickly boiled over into shouting and recriminations on this week's show.

Gay British columnist Owen Jones was trying to explain how many in the LGBT community saw the massacre as a direct assault specifically targeting them. “It was an intentional attack on LGBT people,” Jones said.

Host Mark Longhurst appeared unconvinced. “On the freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves, as [the Paris terrorist attack at] Bataclan was,” the host replied.

Jones grew visibly angered. “You don’t understand this because you’re not gay!” he said, shortly before being interrupted by an equally roused Longhurst.

“Whether I’m gay or not, it has no reflection on the fact this person killed 50 people,” Longhurst growled, as the discussion dissolved into overlapping, angry voices. It wasn’t long before Jones took off his mic and stormed out of the studio.

The argument could be seen as just another televised spat among journalists. But a large number of lesbian and gay people have been left feeling vulnerable, afraid, and angered following the Orlando massacre.

To learn more about how the Orlando night club mass shooting has affected members of the LGBT community, VOA spoke with Christopher Garrison, Ed.D, director of Pine Tree Behavioral Health and licensed therapist specializing in trauma and LBGT issues. Our interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: What are your patients, gay and straight, telling you after Orlando?

"A lot of my patients have been calling me, both straight and those in the LGBT community, enraged about what they were hearing on social media and on television. They’re also angry at some of the politicians who were identifying the Orlando attack as simply a terrorist attack.

"This clearly was an act of homophobia and a hate crime, and what LGBT people are feeling is devalued as a community. They also believe that the media was basically undermining the reality they saw, as well as myself, that Orlando was a hate crime, while the media cast it as a terrorist attack. When they hear politicians just talking about terrorism, they feel devalued and undermined. They’re saying ‘Here is another way we’re being abused and no-one is listening to us.'"

VOA: It seems like many LGBT people don’t feel they’re being represented in news reports. How important is it for them to hear those voices?

"I think it’s especially crucial. For example, my experience, personally and professionally, is that some LGBT people have become complacent. Many of the rights we enjoy today such as marriage equality or rights in employment or housing or what have you, are the direct result of work and struggle by earlier generations, like myself.

"I think sometimes when a tragedy like this happens, they can easily forget that homophobia is alive and well, and they need to continue to express their voice and not be complacent."

VOA: Are LGBT people who had no direct connection to Orlando experiencing some form of trauma?

"We call this vicarious traumatization: when people are exposed to acts of violence or life-taking trauma, which can result in a profound sense of sadness and loss. Even if someone hasn’t directly experienced this tragedy ... Some of those very real symptoms are a sense of helplessness, feelings of fear and terror, and a sense that the world is unsafe."

VOA: Is there something special about the setting of the shooting that’s left LGBT people feeling particularly vulnerable?

"Yes! In many cases lesbian and gay establishments and clubs have served as a safe haven over the decades. ... This kind of attack creates fear; the one place which created safety and a sense of belonging is now compromised and for some, fear will continue to linger."

VOA: What’s your counsel to people experiencing that fear and confusion?

"First of all, I would recommend watching or exposing yourself to these traumatic events in small doses. It’s really important to reach out to family and friends for help and support. You must remember that we don’t stop living. You can be sad, or angry, or experience a sense of injustice because the world is unsafe. But that means it’s crucial for each person to create a sense safety in their own lives.

"You do that by creating healthy, loving relationships, are pursuing activities that give you joy. Of course you have to allow yourself to grieve, but allow yourself to do it in small doses so that you don’t become overwhelmed. For example, what we learned from September 11 [2001] is that many people who were not directly involved in the terror attacks had real PTSD symptoms or what we call acute stress disorder.

"For those folks we recommended therapy, because from a neurological perspective our human minds aren’t always able to process tragedy and trauma, so we need help to put it in its rightful place so we can let go and move on."

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    Doug Bernard

    Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.