I went to the Pulse nightclub memorial three months ago. There were thousands of messages written on the sun-worn plastic sheets strung up along the fence. There were hundreds of candles melted by the hot Florida sun with written messages to loved ones who had been killed on June 12, 2016. There were messages to the LGBTQI community as well. Messages of hope, resilience, remembering to stay proud, and continuing to be authentic were written on rocks laid beneath the Pulse sign. Someone knew that art heals.
Many rocks had been left with markers for people to share messages for those who might be seeking solace, understanding and hope in the senseless violence that occurred that evening—a night when many in the LGBTQI community and their friends had just wanted to dance and be one in music and togetherness.
A year later, I’m left with a sense of continued loss and pain from that night, and I was not even there. In 2016, the LGBTQI community suffered significant traumas. The massacre at Pulse in which 49 lives were lost, the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif. (Dec. 2) in which 36 mostly queer-identified folks lost their lives, the senseless murders of 27 trans people (mostly trans women of color) in what was the deadliest year to date for trans people, numerous other reports of hate crimes strewn across the news, and many that were never reported.
As we look back on the year, we see strength and resilience of a battered community, and we see more media recognition of the LGBTQI community than ever before. But what do we do with the trauma?
Though we do not have any significant research, in my journey across the U.S. and speaking with numerous representatives in the field of addiction and mental health, many are seeing an increase in LGBTQI people seeking treatment. As we know, after a significant trauma, we are still in fight, flight, or freeze mode. Denial keeps us living our day-to-day lives. There was an abundance of clinicians and allies helping right after Orlando, which was absolutely needed. But we also know that trauma does not always heal immediately, that PTSD does not have a timeline.
While it is not scientifically researched, it is my belief that LGBTQI individuals are suffering untreated trauma experienced both personally and as a community, and now the community is seeking treatment in higher numbers. As clinicians and in our facilities, it is now our responsibility to give the best care for these communities.
Can we treat the trauma without understanding the community? Absolutely not.
Can we treat the addiction without understanding the community? Absolutely not.
A year later, the pain is still there. And if we want to carry the flag of being allies to the LGBTQI population, there is work to be done.
It is now on us to do the work, to learn and to get properly trained in helping the LGBTQI community.
Beck Gee-Cohen is the owner & lead consultant of BGC Consulting, which is focused on creating affirming LGBTQI cultures in addiction and mental health treatment.
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