Op-Ed

After Orlando, resiliency in the face of tragedy

Multicolored ribbons representing the gay pride colors of diversity are tied around the protective barrier of the “Survivor Tree,” during a tribute to Orlando nightclub shooting victims at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Thursday, June 16, 2016, in New York.
Multicolored ribbons representing the gay pride colors of diversity are tied around the protective barrier of the “Survivor Tree,” during a tribute to Orlando nightclub shooting victims at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Thursday, June 16, 2016, in New York. Associated Press

Northwest Youth Services is devastated in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando. As we struggle to comprehend this loss, we know that we are not alone in this struggle, and that people all across the nation are hurting too. Our hearts go out to communities in Orlando and the loved ones and survivors who are coping with unimaginable grief. In particular, we extend our love and support to all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people.

Attacks on LGBTQ communities come in many forms. Recently, they have come in the form of legislation attempting to restrict access by transgender people to public bathrooms. Last weekend, they came in the form of an unprecedented, horrifying act of terrorism. All these attacks are born out of homophobia and transphobia — hate and fear directed at the LGBTQ community. We mourn everyone who lost their lives in the attack in Orlando. We also mourn the loss of so many members of the LGBTQ Latinx community, who were celebrating Latin night at Pulse on Saturday night. Like so many violent acts directed toward the LGBTQ community, young people of color were disproportionately impacted.

This Pride month, as we mourn those who lost their lives in Orlando, we are reminded how important this fight still is.

Here at Northwest Youth Services, we have made it our mission to support LGBTQ youth in our community. Nationwide, 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. Our Queer Youth Project, and all our programs, prioritize the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth. We know that events like the shooting in Orlando leave these youth scared for their safety. We must do better for these youth.

Taking action

Grief can sometimes give us a desire to take action — but to feel unsure about how we can make a difference. If you feel moved to do something to prevent tragedies like this in the future, know that you are not alone. Across the nation people are mobilizing, and there are many things you can do right here in our own community that will make a difference, especially for young people.

What you can do:

▪ Speak with a young person in your life about this tragic event. Listen to their thoughts on what happened in Orlando over the weekend and explore with them the impacts homophobia has on people’s lives. This violence affects all of us, not just those of us in LGBTQ communities.

▪ Speak out against efforts to equate homophobia with Islam. Stand up for our Muslim community members who may be facing discrimination and violence in the wake of this attack.

▪ Donate to victims of the shooting in Orlando and their families.

▪ Take care of yourself. Your grief is real, and your need to process is important. Give yourself time, understand that grief comes in waves, and connect with your support network. Seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed.

▪ Learn how to support LGBTQ youth. Spreading knowledge throughout the community builds safety and understanding. We all interact with young LGBTQ people professionally, personally, or both. Contact April Hinkle-Johnson, our Queer Youth Project coordinator, to schedule a free training.

▪ Ask about your workplace’s nondiscrimination policy. Make sure it protects people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

Straight and cisgender allies: You can do something special to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. Take on the work of eradicating homophobia and transphobia from your communities. Listen to what LGBTQ people want, and take action to make that change happen. Tell your lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning friends, children, parents, loved ones that their safety is important to you. Understand that LGBTQ communities are tired; our hearts ache from generations of victimization and violence; and many of us are afraid to come out, to be our whole selves. You can help change the climate of hate to one of love and acceptance.

To youth

We would like to close with a message specifically to young people:

Hate crimes against LGBTQ people can make it hard to imagine freely and proudly being yourself. We want you to know that fear is not shameful. Fear is a natural response when your community is under attack. You are allowed to be afraid when homophobic and transphobic violence threatens your existence. During this month, the month of Pride, we urge you to prioritize your safety above all else. For decades we have celebrated the Stonewall Riots every June, honoring the trans women of color, homeless queer teens, gays and lesbians who fought for human rights. This Pride month, as we mourn those who lost their lives in Orlando, we are reminded how important this fight still is.

As Northwest Youth Services continues working towards equality, we will be celebrating our community at LGBTQ Pride events in the coming weeks. On June 29, come to our Pride prep party and get ready with us for the Pride Parade and Festival by tie-dying t-shirts and making signs. All are welcome to join us in marching in the Bellingham Pride Parade, and visit us at our booth at the Bellingham Pride Festival on Sunday, July 10.

We support you. Our hearts are with you. Our doors are always open for you.

April Hinkle-Johnson is Queer Youth Project coordinator at Northwest Youth Services.

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