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Service members torn over coming out

In wake of repeal, some ready to talk, others staying in closet

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For one gay Air Force pilot, it remains business as usual as he keeps his sexual orientation a secret despite passage of legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The Charleston, S.C., resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he considers himself a private individual and sees no need to make public to his Air Force comrades his gay identity.

“It’s just not my style,” he said. “So, no, I’m probably not going to say anything. If somebody asks me, I might say, ‘Well, if you’re asking the question, then you probably already know the answer to it, so I’ll leave it at that.'”

The pilot said he sees no need to take a date to squadron picnic as straight airmen might bring their spouses.

“As far I can tell, nobody suspects that I’m gay at work, other than I’m single,” the pilot said. “We’re a bunch a pilots, so sometimes it’s not easy for relationships, so a lot of guys that are even older than I am have never been married, so it’s not uncommon. I don’t stand out being in my early 30s and single.”

The pilot’s decision to keep his sexual orientation a secret represents one option for gay service members now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is on its way out the door.

On Dec. 22, President Obama signed into law legislation allowing for repeal of the military’s gay ban, bringing to a close a long struggle to repeal the 17-year-old law.

Following the signing of the legislation, some service members say they intend to make no changes in how they interact with their military colleagues, others plan to make their sexual orientation public, while others say they’re already out to others in their unit.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he thinks the service members will respond to the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the variety of ways that civilian gays and lesbians handle their sexual orientation.

“I largely think it’ll reflect civilian society,” Nicholson said. “Some people will make that personal judgment to not come out, some people will decide to come out for the first time.”

But for the most part, Nicholson said he thinks the end of the military’s gay ban will “in all likelihood be a boring event” that won’t change things for gay service members.

“Some people are already out, and that will continue,” Nicholson said. “Others are not out, and it’s not necessarily because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ that they’re not out because of personal choice or environmental judgments.”

Nicholson predicted that a “small minority” of gay service members will come out to make a statement about their sexual orientation.

“In the rest of the gay community, you see some people who subscribe to the philosophy it’s important to be out to get people more accustomed with gays and lesbians,” Nicholson said. “And I think you’ll see that reflected in a certain group of the military as well.”

One Navy corpsman who spoke to the Blade said he expects no changes after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal because he’s already out to the majority of his colleagues in his unit.

“I’ve also never straight-up told people, but a lot of people have met people that I’ve dated or people have come out to a bar with me or just with my friends,” he said.

The corpsman, a D.C. resident, said he hasn’t been discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” even though he’s out to many of his colleagues because “it was never an issue.”

“You’re carrying yourself in a certain way wearing the uniform and whatever you do outside of work has nothing to do with your job performance,” he said. “I feel like I performed to where anything I did in my off time shouldn’t bother anybody.”

Meanwhile, in Southern Maryland, a Marine Corps sergeant who’s not out to his unit said he intends to make his sexual orientation public after repeal has been in effect for a while.

“In the military life, I don’t see right now as the time to jump out of the closet until after everything goes through and they do all the sensitivity training,” he said. “Probably within a couple years, I’ll probably slowly start just coming out.”

But delaying his coming out process doesn’t mean the sergeant is indifferent to passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation. When Obama signed repeal, he said his reaction was to “have a couple bottles of Champagne.”

“I was ecstatic about it,” he said. “It came a lot faster than I thought it was going to come because I didn’t see it coming before Congress let out.”

The sergeant said he wants to wait before making any declarations about his sexual orientation because he wants senior military leadership that may be uncomfortable with gays to retire first.

“I want to see a lot of more them retire and get out of the picture and a lot more of my peers and my generation move up into their spots,” the sergeant said. “The others from my age range, from what I see, are a lot more accepting of it.”

The sergeant said younger Marines went to school “with five, six, seven, 10 people in their graduating class who were openly gay” — an experience not shared by senior leadership.

Among the strongest opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal prior to Obama’s signing of the legislation was Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who said an end to the military’s gay ban could be a distraction that could “cost Marines’ lives.”

Still, after the law was signed, the commandant issued guidance stating that the Marine Corps will lead the way in implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The sergeant said he doesn’t share Amos’ earlier concerns that open service in the military would be a problem and predicted that Marines would still be able to work as a team.

“That person still wants to survive just as much as I want to survive and go home to mom’s home cooking with apple pie,” he said.

As others make plans to come out at a future time, some service members who were previously closeted are reportedly already making headway in the coming out process in the short time since Obama signed repeal.

The co-director of OutServe, a global network of LGBT service members, who goes by the alias J.D. Smith to avoid being outed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” said he’s already seeing an “interesting trend” of gay service members starting to come out to their families and others with whom they’re close.

“I think the process is people are coming out to people in their units,” Smith said. “People are coming out to their close friends that they trust because they know that it’s about to happen, so I think the coming out process in general has begun even with the law still in effect.”

Smith said he knows gay service members who for the first time brought home their significant others over the holidays to introduce them to their families as a result of Obama signing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Even though the president has signed the legislation, repeal has yet to take effect and gay service members could still be ousted under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for some time.

Open service will only happen after the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that that U.S. military is ready for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The law provides no timeline for when this certification must take place, but Obama said in a recent interview that he foresees it happening in the course of “months, not years.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he wants to implement training for service members before going forward with allowing gays to serve openly in the military. Gates hasn’t given a specific timeline for how long the process would take, but has told reporters he wants to move in a “matter of weeks” through the early stages of the process.

Further, after certification takes place, a 60-day waiting period for congressional review must pass before gays can serve openly in the military without fear of discharge.

Although an implementation date remains uncertain, gay service members are expressing confidence that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will soon be off the books.

The naval corpsman said he’s confident that repeal of the military’s gay ban will become final, but said he still anticipates that the end may take between six months and a year.

“You can’t expect for something like night to day,” he said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time for all these things to go through and for people to be accepting of it.”

The Air Force pilot said he thinks repeal will be implemented this year because he believes Gates and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen want open service to happen on their watches.

“They don’t want to drag it out forever,” the pilot said. “I’m thinking that probably by the end of September, it’ll be all said and done. That’s my personal opinion just based on what I heard about how it’s going to take to do the different training at different levels.”

Nicholson said the perception that open service will come to the military soon is widely shared among gay troops and that the people who are “raising the alarm bells” tend to come from outside the military.

“The tone is celebratory and one of relief,” Nicholson said. “I think a lot of people that I’ve talked to and that have proactively talked to me about it seem to think it’s inevitable, it’s just a matter of time.”

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. USAFSSGT

    January 21, 2011 at 1:40 am

    It is a relief to not worry about being kicked out regardless of if you chose to “come out” or not.

  2. [email protected]

    January 21, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    OF COURSE, “it’s just a matter of time.” That’s NOT the point which is whether that time is too long. As you reported earlier, no less than DADT expert and Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin has said that “It shouldn’t be a long process because the Pentagon ALREADY ESTABLISHED A POLICY TO ALLOW GAYS TO SERVE OPENLY in the military when [in the LCR case] a California federal court in October issued an injunction that temporarily enjoined enforcement of the law. ‘Although they haven’t acknowledged this in public, THE REPLACEMENT REGULATIONS HAVE ALREADY BEEN WRITTEN, and so the Pentagon could easily repeal the ban TODAY if there was the political will’.” Emphasis mine.

    A recent Palm Center study also documents that training does NOT need to happen before open service. Compare both of those facts with what SECDEF Gates—who’s already delayed an end to the ban for two years—has said, that he will NOT “certify” “until the Service Chiefs are comfortable that the risks to unit cohesion and combat effectiveness of a change have been addressed to their satisfaction and to my satisfaction”? In other words, he’s contradicting the results of his own homophobic study: the majority of troops said they’d be fine NOW with open service.

    While eventually he’ll run out of excuses, in the interim, that some self-annointed gay experts are continuing to be collaborationists with him because their backbones of self-respect are not yet fully developed is repulsive. Get off your knees, boys!

  3. steve Kay

    January 22, 2011 at 2:37 am

    IMHO I think being out is the most important thing gay people can do. when people discover that those they know and respect are gay, those str8 people are innoculated against the hatred spewing from some churches.

    Perhaps the big issue is the “know and respect” should come first. As a gay man told me how he came out at work – “If I walked in and told everyone the truth, I might have been run out of the place. Instead I waited a year.

    When I came out, the asshole homophobe was run out of the place.

    BTW – I did something similar to that even though I am str8. Worked at circuit city as a retirement job for 7 yrs till they died. I was the totally out in supporting gay people, even though there was only perhaps one gay person in the store.

    But I was also the one with the car license plate “IMPEACH”., or course referring to that idiot jesus freak Bush JR.

    The store homophobe who had been there for 9 years suddently stopped coming in on time, sometimes didn’t show at all. They canned his ass.

    He went over to Best Buy (surper good, even recruit employees at gay pride event0, and got his ass fired, only can guess why – that he ran into a bunch of gay kids, workign theire – its obvious on most of them.

    And the anxieties induced by his homophobic church got to him, he couldn’t stand to see bush the hater demeaned, you can guess most of the rest.

    the other piece – he was basically a decent, though certainly not too brilliant guy. His life is being ruined by his church.

    Everyone is the victim of religious bigorty.

  4. Retired gay Army CW2

    January 22, 2011 at 6:02 am

    I’ve been retired since 1997. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to be totally out. There is still a bias in the general public about being gay. I would have loved to serve as an openly gay man. I would also love to live my life now as an openly gay man. I’m not conviced that it is religious bigotry or not, but I know that my being closeted can be traced to the ‘nuture’ of my life.

  5. Deryk

    January 25, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Ok.. once again I see the mention of ‘congressional review’ I’ve seen this in articles here and there, but I don’t see any mention of it in the original documents.. when did a congressional review become part of the 60 day waiting period? someone show me where it’s documented.

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Minnesota

Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag

Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students

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Screenshot via Marshall Public Schools, YouTube Channel

MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.

Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.

According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.

“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint. 

Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students. 

“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote. 

What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file. 

The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”

Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”

At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint. 

The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it. 

The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter. 

“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”

In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.

As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet. 

Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.

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National

Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday

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Matthew Shepard, gay news, Washington Blade
Matthew Shepard Thanksgiving and Celebration at the National Cathedral in 2018. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.

The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.  

“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.

“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.

The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.

An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”

The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.

A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018. 
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.

One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.

Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.

Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.

In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.

(VIDEO COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL VIA YOUTUBE)
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‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men

Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age

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Mark Glaze's death by suicide is bringing into focus mental health issues faced by gay men.

The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.

Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.

Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.

“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”

Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.

Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”

“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”

A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.

The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”

“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.

The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.

In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.

In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.

Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”

“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”

Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.

Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.

Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.

“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”

One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.

Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.

Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.

“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”

Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.

Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.

“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”

Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.

Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.

With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.

Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”

“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”

Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”

Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.

“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”

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