On the outside, the sun is blazing. A buzz still sounds out about Orlando online and around town. It’s bright and loud. But past the rainbow flag and through the doors of ALSO Youth in Sarasota, it’s cool, it’s quiet, it’s safe.
ALSO, standing for Advocacy, Leadership, Support and Outreach, held an open group therapy session on Monday in response to the Orlando attack. Three local mental health therapists were at the disposal of LGBTQ youth to talk about anything and everything, but especially about Orlando.
Normally the alarms are off on weekends at the Hanley household. Around 10 a.m. on Sunday, Donna Hanley, ALSO Youth's executive director, had just finished breakfast with her wife; she started tiling the entryway of their home while Donna did the dishes. Hanley said she received a text message from her program coordinator asking if they were going to do something about today. Then she turned on the TV.
“It’s a shakeup of going along your merry way and thinking everything’s fine,” she said.
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Hanley said she started making phone calls and writing emails in order to find a way to support the community, and they decided to open their doors at 10 a.m. Monday.
Hate can be fueled the same way love can be fueled.
Donna Hanley, executive director, ALSO Out.
Jake Pearson, a 23-year-old transgender man, is a scribe at Student Business Services in Sarasota, but was only at work on Monday for a few hours because he couldn’t focus. His bosses told him to go talk to someone, so he went to ALSO Youth for Monday’s session.
“It’s all kind of a blur,” he said.
There were a lot of things he was upset about. Two acquaintances in Orlando were among the victims. He was turned away from donating blood. He was at Pulse two weekends ago while in Orlando for Megacon. It could have been him.
“Pulse was so trendy and popular,” he said. “It was a pretty accepted place.”
Pearson said he went to ALSO Youth's session not so much for him to talk about his feelings, but to let others know it’s OK to talk about it. Not talking, he said, makes things worse.
Pulse was so trendy and popular. ... It was a pretty accepted place.
Jake Pearson of Sarasota
“I want the answers of what happened,” he said. “I know it won’t change anything, but I guess it would give me closure of what happened to them.”
Hanley said she has no way of knowing what the shooter was thinking, but remembered that at the same time that people like her can find support in the LGBTQ community, people who think like the shooter can use like-minded support to uphold the shooter’s agenda.
“Hate can be fueled the same way love can be fueled,” Hanley said.
Hanley said she was expecting to see more youth than Monday coming out later in the week, and even more at a vigil Monday evening, since there’s no other LGBT gathering space in Sarasota.
“No one has that kind of spot, and I’m very happy that we can do this,” Hanley said.
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