Published June 15, 2016
More than 50 members of the UB community gathered yesterday in solidarity against LGBTQ violence in response to Saturday’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
The often-emotional open forum, sponsored by Wellness Education Services, the Intercultural and Diversity Center, and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, was organized so that attendees could share — in a safe place — their thoughts and feelings about the shooting, LGBTQ violence and future issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
The shooting at Pulse Nightclub — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — took the lives of 49 people; 53 more were injured.
Held in the Intercultural and Diversity Center in the Student Union, the forum was led by Jim Bowman, LGBTQ wellness and special projects coordinator, Wellness Education Services, and Terri Budek, associate director, Intercultural and Diversity Center.
“I think for a lot of people, it’s finding the ability to address their feelings or thoughts and the situation, and having an opportunity to do it with others,” Bowman said, outlining the goal of the forum.
“Sometimes when we get in our own space, we can struggle with trying to process a situation. I’m not sure we can ever figure out why, but to know that you are sharing thoughts, experiences and feelings with others can be very powerful.”
The forum began with a 49-second moment of silence for the 49 victims. Initial conversations focused on the attack in Orlando and violence against LGBTQ people in general.
Disbelief, fear and grief united participants, who were seated in a large circle. Tissue boxes floated throughout the room as people shared their reactions and reflected on moments when they felt hopeless, isolated or unsafe.
Staff members from Counseling Services were in available for participants looking for additional support during or after the forum.
“It is important to come together in support of the LGBTQ community and connect with one another in the midst of tragedy,” said Betsy Rodriguez, assistant director for outreach for Counseling Services. “Social support is essential for maintaining physical and mental health. As one individual at the forum said, ‘It was nice to know I am not the only one having all of these different feelings.’”
Despite the grief, messages of hope permeated the solemn conversation.
“There’s a lot of people who support you,” said Peggy Lyons, a technical services associate in the Charles B. Sears Law Library, responding to an individual’s fearful reaction to the violence.
Lyons, who runs Passport Services in the law library, says she has proudly displayed a safe zone sticker on her office door for the past two years, announcing it to be a welcoming space for all.
Attendees called on allies of the LGBTQ community, like Lyons, to come forward and take a stand against the violence. Their use of the words “we” and “community” emphasized that those feeling isolated were not alone.
A sense of comradery enveloped the room. Faculty, staff and students shared ideas to introduce change on campus, from student and faculty organizations to a wider distribution of safe space stickers or cards for faculty and staff to post in their offices.
“Small steps of inclusion can go a long way,” Bowman noted.
The forum closed with a reading of the names of the victims and their ages. Attendees bowed their heads, looks of disbelief again spreading over their faces.
Faculty, staff and students who entered the forum as strangers shared hugs and supportive messages as they left, returning to their jobs and classes.
“We are a campus that cares, and we have people on campus who want to be able to have these conversations together, and so this forum is important in allowing this to happen,” Bowman said.