It’s been a year now since the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. I have been doing a lot of reflecting about the past year and how my life has changed since the murders that night. I did not know any one there, but I was deeply horrified by what occurred at Pulse. As a lesbian I immediately thought of our local gay club where so many people go for a night out. The local gay club in our community is a safe haven, and a bastion of light cutting through the darkness of heterosexual life. In many places in our country it is not safe for a gay couple to hold hands or have public displays of affections. Gay clubs are often the one place where we can just be ourselves. We can hug, we can kiss, we can dance, we can be who we want to be and not who society expects us to be. We can do things heterosexual couples and people take for granted. Gay clubs are not just a club, but literally they are pillars in the gay community because they are safe zones.
I remember the morning after Pulse, finding out about the murders. I had so many feelings, and I have tears in my eyes as I write this even now a year later. Because I am angry and terrified that this happened on US soil and that this could happen again in my own town. I am angry that it took the deaths of FORTY-NINE individuals for a running Republican President to even acknowledge the gay community. How many more have to die before we are not just acknowledged but for people on both party lines to take a stand for us? Being gay should not be a partisan issue. Human rights should be fought for by every individual in our country for every individual in our country. Not just for the individuals people judge are deserving.
But I digress. After feeling many different feelings in the wake of the murders, I made some life changes. I had never been an “out” provider before Pulse. I didn’t think it was necessary. At least that’s what I told myself. I think at the core I was scared. I also worked primarily at an inpatient setting where it’s not appropriate to disclose one’s sexual orientation. I worked very part time at an outpatient setting where I had been seeing some of my patients for about three years. None of them knew I was married to a woman. I did a lot of soul searching. I realized that I was doing a disservice to the LGBT community by not being out as a provider. Because as a lesbian I am scared of healthcare providers reactions to finding out I am married to a woman. Why would my patients be any different? And why was I not working in the best capacity I could to reach the LGBT community? Our suicide rate is so high, and because of my own personal experience with my wife and her family I knew firsthand how unaccepting society can be. I talked with my wife a lot, because at that point we had infant sons. I wanted to do everything I could to protect them in the future. But in my heart I knew I had to take this step and change my life. So I did.
I quit the hospital, I met with my boss at my outpatient job and told her my plan. I wanted to come full time outpatient. I wanted to market myself to the LGBT community, I wanted to start an LGBT support group for young adults, and if patients asked about my husband I was going to start correcting them and telling them I have a wife. I also wanted to put pictures in my office of my family. Because that’s what people do, and I felt I couldn’t do that before. I was so scared of that meeting, and my boss laughed and said “Did you think I wouldn’t be supportive of you?” I remember feeling so relieved and within two months I made the move. I also subscribed to Gay Parent magazine and leave copies out in the waiting room. I told her we had to gay it up a bit around the office.
It’s been six months now since I took that leap and I have not regretted a second of it. My LGBT client base has soared. My support group is filling up. And there have been countless moments when I know I did the right thing. LGBT clients come not knowing I’m married to a woman, and when they figure it out or ask outright and I confirm it there is such relief and relaxation that overtly flows through them. My clients feel safe with a lesbian provider because I get it. They don’t have to educate me on LGBT issues or concerns and a couple of my clients I had been seeing for three years were extremely pissed that I didn’t come out to them sooner. I’ve said that my sexual orientation shouldn’t make a difference because I treat all my clients the same way. But now that I’ve been able to step back and think and experience being “out” as a provider I know it absolutely is different. It’s different not for me but for them. It makes them feel safer and like they have an instant connection. Now, not all gay or transgender people want me as their provider. And that’s fine, I still have a personality and a style that is independent of my lesbian status. But for those who I do fit with it’s been a very positive experience on my end to see how much more quickly our therapeutic relationship develops.
I recently did an intake on a gay client, who asked if I would be willing to do therapy with him in addition to medication management. I said, “I usually reserve my therapy spots for my LGBT clients, so yes that would be fine, as long as we are a good fit,” when I started talking his face fell, but by the end of my sentence he was beaming. He was so effusive with his thanks, and said, “I’ve just never been put first by healthcare providers, it seems like gays are always last, so thank-you.” That moment alone made it worth it to me. He was so young, and already had been brought so low because of society’s judgements.
My own insecurities put up barriers and boundaries around myself as a provider. It took 49 lives for me to wake up and realize that I was wrong. That I couldn’t have one foot in and foot out. My heart aches still when I think of that night and those murders- the innocent lives taken, the parents and family members affected, and all of the ripples that extended from that night. Nothing can take away that pain, but in my own way Pulse helped me shape my future. It made me take a firm stand for my community and create a safe space for LGBT individuals.