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    The Center Orlando: Nurturing LGBTQ+ Mental Health after the Pulse Nightclub Shooting

    Jun 26 2023

    June 12, 2023, marked the seventh anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. The Center Orlando, originally founded as Gay Community Services in 1978, acted as a first responder on that night in 2016, one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. This month, the Center participated in a remembrance ceremony for the 49 individuals who lost their lives at the Pulse shooting: opening a safe space for survivors and ringing bells at the local church. Dr. George A. Wallace, CEO of the Center Orlando, attended the ceremony while also reckoning with the recent wave of anti-trans legislation in Florida.

    The Center Orlando, which recently received an APAF grant for advancing minority mental health, has been supporting the LGBTQ+ community in Central Florida for over 40 years. From funding name changes and gender-affirming surgeries, to providing monkeypox vaccines, they serve multiple Florida counties across four locations. The Center’s Pride Pantry, which was borne from necessity during the first wave of COVID-19, feeds hundreds of individuals each month with dry goods donated by local organizations.

    “We still need [the Pride Pantry] – the price of food and gas and rent is just going up,” said Dr. Wallace. “There are four food drives going on right now around town, and that food will probably get us through July and August. It’s amazing, right? And it’s very grassroots. We just had a refrigeration unit that was donated to us, so now we can start doing fresh vegetables. We partner with a local organization that grows vegetables, so we’re going to do some food insecurity events with them.”

    In addition to supporting physical health, the Center is the only organization in Central Florida that has a separate recovery center for LGBTQ+ mental health, case management, and trauma-informed care: the Orlando United Resiliency Services. “We're a resilient community, so that’s what we call our programming,” Dr. Wallace said. “They can knock us down, but we’re going to fight – we're going to get back up.”

    The Center’s work to help families and individuals heal from trauma earned it an APAF Award for Advancing Minority Mental Health. When the Center became a 2023 award grantee, staff knew right away what the funds would be used for. “It’s going to go towards direct services for individuals who are utilizing our mental health services. The program is being revamped now, and we’re hiring a Director of Clinical Services. We'll be able to offer even more services because we’ll have a supervisor on site for interns,” said Dr. Wallace.

    LGBTQ+ individuals report higher frequency and higher severity of mental health conditions than their straight, cisgender counterparts due to the systemic prejudice they experience. When psychiatrists treat LGBTQ+ patients, “being open and accepting, respecting pronouns, just these simple things can be a world of difference, especially for our youth,” said Dr. Wallace. “They feel discredited, they’re already marginalized. This is a time where they need support. Make sure you’re being supportive and learning more about the trans community. If you don’t know a trans individual, I would encourage you to go to your local LGBT center; there are over 200 across the United States. Connect locally and continue to educate yourself on the issues that are prevalent within your community.”

    Learn more about the Awards for Advancing Minority Mental Health.