Online Extra: Gays Across America: Feds to provide $8M to help Pulse victims
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday (March 14) that it's providing $8.5 million to assist victims of the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. The Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program grant from the DOJ's Office for Victims of Crime will be overseen by the Florida attorney general.
Omar Mateen, 29, fatally shot 49 people and wounded 53 others before he died in a shootout with police at the gay Orlando, Florida nightclub June 12. The massacre was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Mateen's widow, Noor Salman, 30, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she helped him and is currently in custody at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a news release about the grant, "This funding will provide important support to the victims, their loved ones, and communities who were affected by last year's devastating attack on Pulse nightclub. We continue to mourn those who were taken from us that awful day, and we admire the resilience of the great city of Orlando. With this grant, we reaffirm the Justice Department's commitment to the people of Orlando, the families of the victims and all who are helping those affected by this heinous crime."
Marilyn McCoy Roberts, acting director of the Office for Victims of Crime, stated, "This award will reimburse victim services costs for operation of the Family Assistance Center in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and ensure that victims, witnesses, and first responders receive necessary services to help them adjust in the aftermath of violence, begin the healing process, and cope with probable re-traumatization."
At least one Pulse survivor hadn't heard about the funds before the Bay Area Reporter told her about them. She said such help would be appreciated, although it's not clear that any money would go directly to survivors.
Ilka Reyes, 30, whom Mateen shot eight times in the back, said Tuesday, "I was not expecting anything, but I'm grateful. I'm still taking therapy," and "still going through everything."
Reyes added, "I'm just always thankful for everything and all the support, and everything we still receive from people. It's a blessing."
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a news release Tuesday, "I am thrilled that my office will receive additional funding to help victims of the Orlando attack. I want to thank the U.S. Department of Justice for awarding us the funds we requested so that we can continue to make payments and assist victims in any way possible."
According to Bondi's office, the money "will go to direct victim service costs for operation of the Family Assistance Center in the immediate aftermath of the shooting."
The funds are also supposed to ensure that victims, witnesses, and first responders will keep getting "essential services, including mental health counseling," Bondi's office said.
In response to emailed questions from the B.A.R., Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for Bondi, said, "These funds will be used to reimburse costs for a wide range of services provided to victims following the attack in addition to continuing services."
The costs include $108,000 for "consultant fees" and $40,000 for "conference registration and travel" so providers can "obtain relevant nationally based training," according to data Mason provided.
LGBT mental health expert to address counseling conference in SF
An educator on LGBT mental health will deliver a keynote address at the American Counseling Association's annual conference in San Francisco this week.
The conference, which will run March 16-19, had been set to take place in Nashville, Tennessee, but it was moved after that state made it legal for counselors to discriminate against LGBT clients. The law violates ACA's code of ethics.
Jessica Pettitt, who's LGBT, will talk about her work as an educator who encourages people to get out of their comfort zones.
Pettitt, who lives in Eureka, California, said she'll talk about "being able to look at different political and cultural and personal differences that are happening and using them to show why our individual efforts matter even more now."
She said her message wouldn't be aimed against Republican President Donald Trump, who's picked many anti-LGBT people for his cabinet and worked to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., among other discriminatory efforts.
"There are probably members of the association who aren't totally against religious freedom bills," which allow discrimination against LGBTs "or who voted for Trump," Pettitt said.
"We need to be able to talk across those differences."
Pettitt has a book coming out in April called "Good Enough Now," in which she encourages people to challenge their assumptions.
For more information, visit http://www.goodenoughnow.com.
Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues nationwide. It runs most Tuesdays. Please submit comments or column ideas to Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.