Tag Archives: Orlando shootings

Why Did the FDA Prevent Gay and Bisexual Men from Donating Blood in the Aftermath of Orlando?

Blood donation bag syringe needle

By Leo Rennie (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Government Relations Office) 


Understanding the Controversy


After the horrific shooting on June 12, 2016 at Pulse, a popular gay bar in Orlando, Florida, many of the victims were in extreme need of blood transfusions. Driven by empathy and solidarity with the victims, gay and bisexual men rushed to area hospitals and blood donation centers to help, along with scores of their Orlando neighbors. Sadly, hundreds identifying as men who have sex with men (MSM) were turned away because current FDA regulations prohibit gay and bisexual men from donating blood unless they abstain from sex with other men for a full year before donating blood.


HIV risk depends on several factors including condom use, number of sex partners and type of sexual activity, with unprotected anal sex being the most risky. While gay men and bisexual men make up more than half of the number of persons living with HIV/AIDS in Orlando, it is individual behavior, not sexual orientation, that puts someone at risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV.

The FDA 12-month MSM deferral policy prevents healthy gay and bisexual men from donating blood solely based on their sexual orientation rather than actual risk to the blood supply. The tragic Orlando shootings have brought attention to an outdated, discriminatory and stigmatizing policy and sparked renewed calls for the FDA to end it once and for all.


What is the FDA MSM deferral policy?


According to the FDA Blood Products Advisory Committee recommendations, blood centers must follow guidelines that inherently discriminate against and stigmatize gay and bisexual men. While the guidelines prior to 2015 included a lifetime ban on all donations from MSM, the 2015 guidelines are not much better. They require that blood donors must not be a man who has had sex with a man for the past 12 months, or a woman who has had sex with an MSM in the past 12 months.


What’s Wrong with Current FDA Regulations on Blood Donations?


Beyond being discriminatory and stigmatizing towards gay and bisexual men, they perpetuate stereotypes that HIV is a “gay disease” and that gay and bisexual men are the primary carriers of communicable diseases. This type of stigma and discrimination has no scientific basis and is particularly damaging to the psyche of gay and bisexual men.


The policy is also obsolete. The FDA implemented the MSM deferral policy in the early days of the HIV epidemic before blood donations could be screened for HIV. HIV tests weren’t developed before 1985, putting those receiving blood transfusions at risk of HIV infection. However, modern HIV and other sexually transmitted infection testing methods are incredibly rapid.


Compared with older testing methods, recent testing methods can detect positive results within days of exposure, or at most, a few weeks. Today, the nation’s blood supply is incredibly safe. The risk of HIV infection via blood transfusion is low. As of December 2015, the rate of HIV infection via blood transmission was miniscule at one out of 1.47 million donation cases.


What Can Policymakers Do?


We know that the current FDA deferral policy singles out gay and bisexual men based on criteria unlikely to put those receiving blood transfusions at risk of HIV infection. The FDA should change its 2015 blood donation guidelines to end the 12-month deferral policy for gay and bisexual men once and for all, replacing it with one based on assessment of individual risk behaviors.


One day after the shooting, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), Vice President of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, led a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 members of the House of Representatives in calling on the FDA to end its discriminatory blood ban. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-MN) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) led a similar charge in their chamber. Lawmakers stopped short of taking legislative action, but they strongly urged the FDA commissioner to revise the 12-month MSM deferral policy to more closely align with current science and blood screening technologies.


FDA should promptly report back to congressional oversight committees and, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary’s Office, engage public health and LGBT stakeholders in devising a policy that may defer high-risk gay and bisexual men, while permitting low-risk gay and bisexual men to donate blood.


We urge federal agency heads and Members of Congress to consider the impact of stigmatizing and discriminatory laws and health policies on the LGBT community, and to take steps to correct them. For example, lawmakers can support the Equality Act of 2016, a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. APA supports policies that decrease stigmatization and marginalization of LGBT individuals. To learn more about APA’s advocacy efforts on this topic and others, please visit the Public Interest Government Relations Office website.



AIDS.gov – Blood Transfusions and Organ/Tissue Transplants

FDA – Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products – Questions and Answers

GMHC – MSM Blood Ban

WHO – Blood Safety and Availability

Filed under: AIDS, LGBT Issues Tagged: aids, discrimination, FDA MSM deferral policy, HIV, HIV testing, LGBT, MSM, MSM blood ban, Orlando shootings

Why HIV Providers Should Care About the Orlando Shooting


By David J. Martin, PhD, ABPP (Senior Director, APA Office on AIDS)

In the aftermath of the mass shooting of LGBT people in an Orlando nightclub on June 12, 2016, there was a great deal of discussion concerning the shooter’s motives. Was it a hate crime? An act of terrorism? Members and allies of the LGBT community have come together to express their support for the victims and to denounce violence against LGBT people.

Although the solid links between the LGBT community and the HIV prevention and treatment communities resulted in a strong show of solidarity, there is another reason HIV care providers and educators should be concerned about the shooting and its aftermath: It is an instance of the stigma that can increase the risk of HIV transmission and reduce the ability of people with HIV to fight their disease.

Although most LGBT community members demonstrate resilience in the face of these psychosocial factors, they do take a toll. These factors have been associated with poor mental health (increased depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicide ideation/attempt), diminished self-esteem, and drug and alcohol use/misuse.  

Just as important, they can increase the risk of HIV transmission in the LGBT community. And for those living with HIV, they may diminish the body’s ability to fight HIV beyond the damage done by the virus itself:

  • In an early study, Steve Cole and his colleagues reported that gay men with HIV who concealed their sexual orientation demonstrated faster disease progression than gay men with HIV who did not conceal their sexuality.
  • In a later study, Dr. Cole and his colleagues reported that gay men with high levels of autonomic nervous system activity (ANS: a measure of stress) experienced impaired response to anti-HIV medication—their viral loads prior to starting anti-HIV medication did not drop nearly as much as those with low ANS levels.
  • In 2003, Ron Stall and his colleagues reported on the impact of psychosocial health problems (polydrug use, depression, childhood sexual abuse) on high-risk sexual behavior among gay men; they found that the more of these health problems gay men had, the higher their sexual risk. Similarly, in 2007, Brian Mustanski and his colleagues demonstrated the role of psychosocial health problems (binge drinking, street drug use, regular marijuana use, psychological distress, sexual assault, partner violence) in increasing high-risk sex, and in 2012, Ann O’Leary and her colleagues also reported similar findings. They suggested that the overall constellation of findings suggests that “cumulative adverse psychosocial health conditions of any sort seem to exert their negative effects on HIV risk and infection.” Dr. O’Leary and her colleagues also found that optimism and education lessened (but did not eliminate) these effects.

The Orlando mass shooting is another manifestation of the multiple psychosocial insults that still confront the LGBT community. The recent findings cited here (and others) suggest that, in addition to their impact on the mental health of the LGBT community, these insults contribute to increased risk for HIV and diminished physical health among people with HIV.  For these reasons, HIV providers need to continue partnering with their LGBT allies in confronting anti-LGBT bias and discrimination.

You can visit the American Psychological Association’s Office on AIDS website for information on psychology and HIV.  While there, you can also read the Resolution Opposing HIV Criminalization recently passed by the APA Council of Representatives. The Psychology and AIDS Exchange is a topical newsletter on emerging HIV-related issues.

Image source: Flickr user Ashley Van Haeften via Creative Commons

Filed under: AIDS, LGBT Issues Tagged: aids, discrimination, HIV, hiv prevention, HIV risk, HIV/AIDS research, homophobia, LGBT, Orlando shootings, prejudice, stigma

100+ Resources for the Aftermath of the Orlando Mass Shooting Tragedy


By Skyler Jackson, MS (Doctoral Student in Counseling Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park)

On June 12, 2016 rapid gunfire tore through Orlando’s Pulse gay nightclub in an act of violence that jarred the nation—and garnered global attention.

Many were shaken to the core by what we now understand to be the largest mass shooting by a single shooter—and the deadliest incident of violence targeting LGBTQ people—in U.S. history. The numbers alone are staggering: At the time of this blog post, 49 deaths have been confirmed and an additional 53 people were injured during the gunman’s attack at the gay club’s popular Latin night. The facts that have come to light since the event have added chilling detail to our understanding of this tragic event.

When single events of this magnitude occur, we react in a multitude of ways. Many found themselves engulfed in difficult feelings (e.g., panic, anger, grief, fear), and a subsection of these individuals are still emotionally overwhelmed. Others immediately gravitated towards information gathering, fervently consuming the facts of this event. Indeed, in the aftermath of the seemingly incomprehensible, we often find ourselves on a burning quest for clarity and understanding. Another group still was immediately primed for action—ready to reform existing legislation, eager to combat homophobia and toxic masculinity, determined to work to reduce violence and improve human relations. Some simply felt numb, lost, and paralyzed.

Behind these responses are unspoken questions: How could this happen? What can I do? How can I cope? Where do we go from here? No one perspective and no single resource can address each of these inquiries. Fortunately, in the time since the attack, a number of online resources, articles, and videos—some old, and many new—have circulated in relation to the event and its aftermath.

Below is a compilation of over 100 online resources related to the Orlando, FL tragedy. The list is categorized by theme or intended audience, and includes online articles, lesson plans, videos, mental health resources, open letters, tips for clinicians, petitions, hotlines, and more.

The online resources and articles included were selected with great leniency. With the exception of pieces that spread misinformation or prejudice, few articles were intentionally excluded from this curated list. Thus, the 100+ items included vary greatly in quality, tone, and perspective. That said, the list is not comprehensive. It may, however, serve as an organized starting point in our quest for self-reflection, community healing, and ultimately, social change in the aftermath of this devastating event.


  1. How to Cope after a Mass Shooting (English & Español)
  2. Responding to the Tragedy in Orlando: Helpful Responses for LGBTQ People and Allies
  3. 10 Ways to Support Yourself and the LGBTQ Community in Wake of the Orlando Shooting
  4. Recovering Emotionally from Disaster
  5. Incidents on Mass Violence – SAMHSA
  6. 11 Small Ways to Feel Less Helpless this Week, from a Trained Therapist
  7. The Behavioral Health Response to Mass Violence (Webinar)
  8. Disaster and Trauma Effects on Parents (PDF)
  9. In the Wake of the Orlando Massacre: 7 Ways I Take Care of Myself During Depressive Episodes
  10. 13 Soothing Books to Read When Everything Hurts (Intersectional Focus)
  11. Tips to Support Individual and Community Healing
  12. 4 Self-Care Tips After the Pulse Tragedy


  1. Nationwide Vigils, Victim Fund Page, and More (English & Español)
  2. Support Victims of the Pulse Shooting
  3. APA Disaster Resource Network
  4. How to Help Orlando Shooting Victims
  5. Practical Things Psychology Graduate Students Can Do
  6. Donate to the Orlando Youth Alliance (GLBTQ youth serving non-profit)
  7. Love Is Love – LGBTQ KidLit Book Donation Drive for the Orlando Youth Alliance
  8. Muslims United for Victims of the Pulse Shooting
  9. Preventing Gun Violence in 5 Steps
  10. Tell Congress: Support Common Sense Measures to Reduce Gun Violence (APA Action Alert) 


  1. 8 Ways Allies Can Show Up For the Queer Community After Orlando
  2. How to Talk to a Queer Person Who is Afraid of Dying
  3. An Open Letter to Straight People on the Pulse Massacre
  4. Rejecting Islamophobia as a Queer Latina in the Wake of the Orlando Shooting
  5. 7 Things Straight People Aren’t Understanding about Orlando
  6. Can We Stop Erasing Latinos from the Orlando Massacre Narrative?
  7. Learning How to be a Straight Ally after the Orlando Tragedy
  8. Mourning on Ramadan: Breaking My Fast With Queer Muslims After the Orlando Shooting
  9. Being an Ally in the Wake of Orlando
  10. Dalai Lama Warns Against Scapegoating Muslims After Orlando Shooting
  11. To My Heterosexual Friends: This Is Why Orlando Hurts
  12. Gay Rabbi: We Can All Mourn Orlando, But This Was Terrorism Against Gay People
  13. 26 Things Queer People Actually Want to Hear after Orlando
  14. In Whitewashing the Pulse Shooting, We Dehumanize the Victims


  1. Disaster and Trauma Responses of Children (PDF)
  2. Helping Your Child Manage Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting
  3. The #Orlando Syllabus (College-level curriculum)
  4. Addressing the Orlando Shooting at Your School
  5. Creating Safe and Welcoming Schools for All Children & Families
  6. 7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando
  7. Teaching and Learning Resources – The Attack in Orlando: The Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History
  8. 10 Suggestions when Teaching about Controversial or Difficult Issues
  9. How to Talk to Children about Difficult News and Tragedies
  10. GLSEN’s Safe Space Kit: Guide to Being an Ally to LGBT Students
  11. Safe Learning Environments For LGBTQ Students In A Post-Orlando America
  12. The Orlando Shootings: Parents’ Guide to Talking to Children (PDF)
  13. Classroom Lesson – Orlando Shooting: A Listening Circle
  14. Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate
  15. How Should Parents Talk to LGBTQ Youth About Orlando?
  16. How Teachers and Parents Can Talk to Kids about the Orlando Shootings


  1. Effects of Traumatic Stress after Mass Violence, Terror, or Disaster
  2. Vicarious Trauma (PDF)
  3. Disaster and Trauma Responses of Children (PDF)
  4. LGBTQ Youth Related Resources on Trauma and Coping
  5. Creating Welcoming & Inclusive Environments for Traumatized LGBTQ Youth (Video)
  6. Mental Health Reactions after Disaster: A Fact Sheet for Providers (PDF)
  7. LGBT Veteran Care Post-Orlando (PDF)
  8. Secondary Traumatic Stress: A Fact Sheet for Child-Serving Professionals (PDF)


  1. America’s Gun Problem Explained in 18 Charts
  2. Gun Violence Prevention
  3. Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy – APA Panel of Experts Report
  4. Gun Violence and the Psychological Response to Mass Violence (PDF)


  1. Latinx LGBTQ Community & Its Stories of Survival Should Be at Center of Orlando Response
  2. American Ugliness: Queer and Trans People of Color Say “Not In Our Names”
  3. White Queers, This Is a Betrayal
  4. The Pulse Nightclub Shooting Robbed the Queer Latinx Community of a Sanctuary
  5. Queer Latinx: Tired of Being Targets
  6. It’s Not Safe to be a Queer Person of Color in America
  7. Responses – Familia Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Video)
  8. It’s OK to Let Vulnerability Sink In
  9. Do Not Militarize Our Mourning: Orlando and the Ongoing Tragedy Against LGBTSTGNC POC
  10. Statement from the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity
  11. What Queer Latinos are Saying about the Orlando Shooting
  12. From Charleston to Orlando: Reflections on Massacre in a Time of Backlash
  13. Queer, Muslim and Unwelcome at the “New Stonewall”
  14. Whitewashing the Orlando Shooting Victims Only Makes LGBTQ People of Color More Vulnerable to Violence
  15. Here is What LGBT Muslims Want You to Know after the Orlando Shooting
  16. To My Fellow QTPOC Mourning the Orlando Pulse Shooting: We Need to Love Each Other
  17. Only When I’m Dancing Can I Feel This Free
  18. In Honor of Our Dead: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Black – We Will Be Free | En Honor a Nuestros Muertos: Latinx, Queer, Trans, Musulmanes, Negros – Seremos Libres
  19. “They Are Our Dead”: LGBTQ Latinos Speak Out After Orlando
  20. LGBT People of Color Refuse to be Erased after Orlando: ‘We Have to Elbow In’
  21. In Praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club
  22. Queer Muslims Confront Intersectional Challenges (Video)
  23. LGBT Clubs Let Us Embrace Queer Latinidad, Let’s Affirm This
  24. How are Latinx and LGBT Leaders Mobilizing in the Wake of Orlando Shootings
  25. Among the Orlando Shooting Victims, Trans Latino Advocates Hope Their Stories are Told
  26. The Time Two White Gay Men Heckled a Latina at a Pulse Vigil
  27. Stuck in the Media Spotlight, LGBT Muslims Often Feel Exploited
  28. #SomosOrlando: Latinx LGBTQ+ being Ignored while Simultaneously Killed
  29. Orlando’s Gay Latino Community Describes Pulse Nightclub in Their Own Words
  30. Joint Statement on the Orlando Mass Shooting – National Latina/o Psychological Association & Orgullo (PDF)
  31. Orgullo Statement on the Orlando Mass Shooting (PDF)
  32. LGBT People of Color Alienated by San Francisco Pride’s Plan for More Police
  33. Meet the Gay Muslims Coming Out After the Orlando Massacre
  34. Recognizing the Intersection of Identities in Orlando Mass Shooting
  35. What Queer Muslims are Saying about the Orlando Shooting
  36. Orlando’s Intersections: May Our Differences Stretch Us to Revolutionary Love
  37. LGBTQ Latinxs and Allies Share Heartfelt Messages in Honor of Orlando Shooting Victims


  • DeQH – Desi LGBTQ Helpline for South Asians (Thursdays & Sundays, 8-10pm EST): 908-367-3374
  • GLBT National Hotline: 888-843-4564
  • GLBT National Youth Talkline (up to age 25): 800-246-7743
  • LGBTQ Violence Response Hotline (24 hours everyday): 202-888-7222
  • Muslim Youth Hotline (Monday-Friday, 6-9pm): 1-866-Naseeha
  • National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (24 hours everyday; English & Spanish): 212-714-1141
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – English (24 hours everyday): 800-273-8255
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Spanish (24 hours everyday): 888-628-9454
  • SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline (Interpretation service for over 150 languages): 800-985-5990
  • SAMSHA Disaster Distress Helpline (Hard of hearing and deaf community): 800-846-8517
  • SAMHSA Disaster Distress Text Support (English & Spanish): Text TalkWithUs or Hablanos to 66746
  • Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860 (USA); 877-330-6366 (Canada)
  • Trevor Lifeline (National 24-hour suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth): 866-488-7386



Skyler Jackson, MS, is a diversity consultant and psychologist in training, currently completing his doctoral studies in Counseling Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. As a scholar, Skyler’s research helps illuminate ways in which contemporary forms of social stigma (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia) not only have economic, educational, moral, and political implications, but are also important matters of public health. As a diversity consultant, Skyler’s training and facilitation helps to spark personal and community transformation by empowering people to dialogue about issues of identity and difference. He currently resides in Washington DC.

Contact: [email protected]

Blog Administrator Note:

Posts by guest authors reflect the views and perspectives of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the American Psychological Association.




Filed under: LGBT Issues, Violence Tagged: discrimination, gun violence, hate crime, homophobia, LGBT, Orlando shootings, prejudice, transphobia

Firearm Violence Prevention is a Human Rights Issue

Disarm HateBy Susan H. McDaniel, PhD (APA President) and Cynthia D. Belar, PhD (APA Interim CEO)

June 28 is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which launched lesbian and gay rights as a mass movement and is commemorated in the LGBT Pride celebrations. We take this occasion to reaffirm the American Psychological Association’s commitment to removing the social stigma that sexual and gender minorities still experience both here in the U.S. and around the world. We’ve come a long way since the days when mainstream psychology contributed to the oppression of sexual and gender minorities as mentally ill. However, prejudice and discrimination still exist today even within psychology. There are individuals and organizations in the U.S. and many other places promoting the unscientific idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices that can or should be changed.

This month’s shootings in Orlando were horrific, but sadly they weren’t a radical aberration. Violence directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people remains widespread and frequent. A recent New York Times analysis of FBI hate crimes data indicated that such crimes against sexual minorities were the highest per capita of any group tracked. Internationally, violence against sexual and gender minorities, can be even more brutal. In South Africa where human rights of LGBT people are enshrined in the constitution, “corrective rape” of lesbians still occurs. In the Middle East, ISIS has thrown gay men from rooftops. The U.N. has called for its members to act urgently to end such violence and discrimination.

Violence and discrimination are not based solely on one set of prejudices; members of the LGBT community face prejudice for multiple reasons. As we have learned more information about the victims of the shootings in Orlando, it has become clear that most were people of color and predominantly Latino. We also know that transgender women of color are the majority of LGBT hate crime homicides. People of color and the LGBT community continue to experience discrimination, and their risk of victimization is compounded when their identities intersect across multiple stigmatized groups.

When governments, including the U.S., codify discrimination, they help to promote and maintain stigma and prejudice. Hundreds of laws targeted at LGBT people have been introduced in our state legislatures in the past three years and some have passed. Draconian new laws targeting LGBT people and their allies were adopted in Uganda and Nigeria in recent years. In much of the Middle East and South Asia, legal penalties for homosexuality range from 14 years’ imprisonment to death. Russia has even criminalized speech that supports the rights of sexual or gender minorities.

Action is needed to end all discrimination and violence, public and private. Legal protections matter. Research has found that LGBT people living in places with protective and supportive laws are healthier than those in places with fewer legal protections. APA is proud to join with civil and human rights groups to promote U.S. policies that prohibit unfair discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT movement has had remarkable successes – such as marriage equality – due to its commitment and creativity. It is important for us all to keep that in mind and to call upon the strengths that the LGBT community and its allies have built as we move forward.

The shootings in Orlando, as the work of a lone gunman, will not ultimately harm the movement for LGBT rights, but they do make painfully clear how firearm violence is a human rights issue. Firearm violence affects us all – and especially those targeted by hate. Out of this tragic event an opportunity can be seen for all groups to come together—including LGBT people, people of color, and their allies, along with violence prevention advocates—to achieve legislative and cultural change to prevent any further needless deaths and injuries due to gun violence.

Filed under: Human Rights and Social Justice, LGBT Issues, Violence Tagged: discrimination, firearm violence, gun violence, gun violence prevention, hate, hate crime, human rights, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, LGBT rights, Orlando shootings, prejudice, violence prevention

Responding to the Tragedy in Orlando: Helpful Responses for LGBTQ People and Allies


By Glenda Russell, PhD

What took place in Orlando on the morning of June 12, 2016 was a hate crime and an act of terror. In one sense, hate crimes are always acts of terror: Hate crimes victimize not only the individual or individuals who were directly impacted but also the communities of which those individuals are members. Feeling a certain level of confusion is a frequent part of being in a community that has been impacted by a hate crime. It is critical that we call the event what it is: a hate crime. Having strong reactions to such events makes sense. These reactions are not pathological, and it is likely that many other people share them.

What we feel is not about a personal weakness; this is about a community and political experience that may be felt on a deeply personal level. It is a collective experience, and collective problems are best solved through collective means. This event, despite its horror, will not stop the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer rights. It is important for us to keep that in mind and to call upon the strengths we have built as a community as we move forward. Here is what we know can help based on over two decades of research.


Helpful Responses for LGBTQ People


1. Cultivate a “movement perspective.”

This horrible moment is part of what sometimes happens when people insist on their rights. We are part of a community that extends across time and place, in this nation and beyond. We are also connected to other movements for equality. We must keep this in mind and resist the temptation to see one person in another stigmatized group (the shooter) as representing all members of that group (Muslims, people of color, etc.). We all benefit from seeing the broader movement for equality as a struggle we all share.

It does not mean the movement is ending or even in trouble. The event in Orlando is part of a bigger backlash. The movement will go forward despite such events, though that may not feel possible now.

We have the power to make that happen. It requires us to work, but is there any more important thing to do with our energies?


2. Do something.
  • Active coping is virtually always better than doing nothing.
  • Read a book on queer history.
  • Think of 10 good things about being LGBTQ.
  • Express your sadness, anger, and fear or whatever you’re feeling.
  • Get your friends together to talk about this event.
  • Resist the temptation to reduce the Orlando tragedy to a matter of mental illness. Research shows that people with diagnosed mental illnesses are no more likely to commit violent acts than people without such diagnoses.
  • Send money to your local LGBTQ community center.
  • Volunteer with a community organization.
  • Attend a Pride parade in your city.
  • Go to a queer chorus concert.


3. Pay attention to your allies.

When danger is afoot, it is tempting to focus exclusively on possible sources of danger. While it is important to be as safe as possible, it is also important to focus on who your allies are. Movements rarely make progress solely through the efforts of people who are the targets of oppression. We need allies. Pay at least as much attention to our allies as you do to the people who are against us. Tell your straight and cis friends what you would like them to do. Hold yourself accountable for being an ally to oppressed groups of which you are not a member—including Muslims. This helps you to be aware of your privilege—which, in Suzanne Pharr’s words—you can “spend well.” You’ll feel less powerless, and you can create positive change in the world.


4. Watch for the negative messages about our community that may float around.
  • Actively resist such messages.
  • Learn the truth about who we are.
  • Read some LGBTQ history to remind yourself of what an amazing movement we have.
  • Read about LGBTQ elders and what they have accomplished.
  • Take note of the remarkable strength, courage, and creativity of so many LGBTQ youths.
  • Remember and heed the words of the great South African freedom fighter, Steven Biko, who said, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
5. Find and make use of your LGBT and allied community. 
  • Go where you feel safe. Play when you feel like it.
  • You’ll be contributing to the community even as you get good things from the community.
  • Support community events.
  • Use the Orlando tragedy as a way to re-energize yourself and your local community.
  • Have hot sex, and play safe.
  • Look at everything you have gained from the LGBTQ community, and dare to pass it on to others.
  • Do the usual things that help people, especially in times of crisis.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat well.
  • Be careful what you put into your body.
  • Get some exercise.
  • Pay attention to the temptation to isolate.
If You Are a Mental Health Professional:
  •  Share your knowledge and skills with others.
  • Help our communities to know the truth about our lives.
  • Be willing to talk with your clients about their reactions to Orlando.
  • Teach your students about privilege and oppression.
  • Show others that being LGBT or Q is a gift.



Glenda Russell, PhD is a licensed psychologist who works at  Ethnography & Evaluation Research at the University of Colorado Boulder; she also teaches adjunctively there. She has conducted research about the consequences of stigma for more than two decades. Among other publications is Voted Out: The Psychological Consequences of Anti-gay Politics. She works as a consulting partner with  the North Star Project.

The original version of this article was featured on Dr. Glenda Russell’s website: http://drglendarussell.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Responding-to-Orlando.pdf



Filed under: LGBT Issues, Violence Tagged: hate, hate crime, healing, homophobia, LGBT, Orlando shootings, self-care, terrorism, trauma

7 Ways to Talk to Children and Youth about the Shootings in Orlando


By Robin Gurwitch, PhD

Once again our nation is coping with a violent tragedy.  In the aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack, we find ourselves distressed, grief-stricken, and even angry that such a horrible thing could happen.  Children and teens may find the event even more challenging.  Here are some suggestions on talking with your children about what happened.

  1. Engage in age-appropriate honest discussions

Children and teens may have watched news coverage of the event and its aftermath and/or heard adults around them talking about the shooting. To best help youth, let them know that talking about it is a good thing. You can help by starting the conversation with your children. It may start with, “As you know, there was a terrible shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, FL. Many people were killed or injured. I want to talk to you about this and answer any questions or worries you may have.” Be honest in your discussion, but the gruesome details are unnecessary to share.

Keep the conversation at a level that the child or teen can understand. In other words, what you may say to an 8 year old may be very different than the language you may use with a 16 year old. Remember, your frank discussion, while difficult, will help separate fact from fiction and clear up any misinformation or misunderstanding. Children will “fill in the gaps” with ideas that may be far more frightening than the reality. Because of this, try to be mindful of your adult conversations about the attack as, again, children may not fully understand what they hear.

  1. Monitor social media and television exposure

Young children should not watch this at all. Older children and teens may have some exposure, but it is important that we discuss what they are seeing or hearing with them. With teens, we can often ask, “what have your friends been posting or saying about the attack in Orlando?” This may open the door for further conversation. Remember, as adults, we also need to take a break from coverage. We are also vulnerable to stress reactions, including worries and anxieties.

  1. Promote human values  

Because this attack happened at a gay nightclub, there may be questions about the attack’s location. It is important to let children and teens know that no one deserves any act of violence for their sexual orientation, gender identity or, for that matter, race, religion, culture, or other beliefs.  We live in a time when fear-mongering and hate speech directed at anyone who is different are heightened in our country. It is important to share with children and teens the values and beliefs we want them to develop as we help to shape their world view. For parents and other important adults in the lives of LGBTQ youth, it is essential that we provide extra support and understanding as this tragedy unfolds. Unfortunately, hate speech may occur and we need to remind our children and teens in the LGBTQ community that they are not alone.

General resources for LGBT youth and their parents include resources from the Family Acceptance Project, which works to prevent health and mental health risks for LGBT children and youth, and “What Does Gay Mean?” – a brochure to improve understanding and respect for LGBT youth, available from Mental Health America for a minimal cost.  The Public Interest blog will explore needs of LGBTQ youth in a future post. We also must not overlook the fact that Muslim youth may be the targets of Islamophobic attacks in the aftermath of this terrorist attack. They will also need compassion and support in the days and weeks ahead. Encourage children in both of these groups to seek out a trusted adult to share their questions, concerns, and worries as they may experience the event in a more personal way than others.

  1. Recognize safety and security

Concerns related to safety and security are often paramount after tragedies. Talk to children and teens about the heroic response from law enforcement and ongoing steps being taken. Share with youth that communities across the U.S. have plans to help keep residents as safe as possible before, during, and after any disaster or terrorist attack. This is an opportunity to discuss family plans for safety. For all children and youth, providing an extra dose of patience, attention, and love will help everyone during this time.

  1. Anticipate possible stress reactions

In the aftermath of tragic events, particularly terrorist events, you may see reactions to stress and trauma in your children. These may include difficulty sleeping and changes in appetite. Encouraging proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep is helpful. There may also be problems with attention and concentration. For many children and especially teens, there may be an increase in irritability and mood swings (above what we would expect). Children and youth may think about this event, even when they don’t want to. Keep the lines of communication open and check back in with them often in the days and weeks ahead.

  1. Accept possible reminders of suffering or loss

Traumas such as this recent shooting may bring up personal suffering or losses, whether or not the loss was the result of violence. Help children and teens remember how they have successfully coped with past hardships and encourage them to use similar strategies now. Grief and loss are unique for each of us and children and teens are no different. These emotions follow no timetable. Building and maintaining a strong social support system is paramount to the healing process. Besides family and friends, support systems may also include faith and culture-based organizations.

  1. Foster hope

The aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack also reminds us of the goodness in people. As we watched thousands respond to the call for blood donations, we witnessed the desire to help, the wish to say, “we stand together; we are united; we will persevere.” Children and teens may wish to find a way to help. Consider making a donation to the American Red Cross or similar organizations from monies they have earned.  A handwritten note to responders in Orlando, as well as in your own community for the work they do every day, can be another positive contribution.

Consider age-appropriate ways for your children to volunteer in your community, your neighborhood, and in your cultural or faith-based organizations to help others. These and myriad other acts of kindness remind us that while these acts of terrorism seek to threaten and cower us, the effect may be the opposite. These acts bring out our strengths and assure us that we will support each other today and into the future.

Distressing reactions to this tragedy will likely lessen over time. If they persist or interfere with day-to-day functioning, a psychologist can help you develop a strategy to move forward.  Go to APA’s Psychologist Locator or reach out to your state psychological association for resources in your area.

For further tips on talking to your kids during tragedy, check out these resources:

And for your own self-care in these difficult times, check out:



Dr. Robin Gurwitch has been involved in understanding the impact of terrorism and disasters on children since the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, providing direct service, training, and conducting research. She is a member of the APA Disaster Resource Network, American Red Cross, and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Dr. Gurwitch was recently appointed to the HHS National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Violence Tagged: Children, children's mental health, gun violence, hate crime, homophobia, islamophobia, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, LGBT youth, Muslim youth, Orlando shootings, parenting, stress, teenagers, teens, terrorism, trauma