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Obama praised for jobs speech despite ENDA omission

President doesn’t mention lack of federal protections in remarks

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President Barack Obama addresses the joint session of Congress (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBT advocates praised the initiatives President Obama set forth in his jobs speech Thursday night — even though his address made no direct reference to the lack of federal job protections for LGBT people.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress, Obama unveiled a $447 billion plan — dubbed the American Jobs Act — that aims to stimulate the economy through payroll tax cuts, tax breaks for companies hiring new workers, funds for infrastructure development and regulatory reform.

“The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities,” Obama said. “The question tonight is whether we’ll meet ours. The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy; whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning.”

Whether Congress will be able to pass Obama’s plan — or any jobs initiative — remains to be seen. So far this year, Congress and the White House argued until the absolute deadline to pass a resolution to keep funding the U.S. government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and again bickered until the last possible day to come an agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid default on the country’s financial obligations.

Questions also persist regarding Obama’s approach to paying for his $447 billion initiative. The president is calling on the congressional “Super Committee” established by the debt deal to come up with the additional deficit reduction needed to pay for the measure in addition to meeting an already established target of $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.

One problem with job security that Obama didn’t mention in his speech was the lack of federal non-discrimination protections faced by LGBT Americans in the workplace. Firing someone for being gay is legal in 29 states and firing someone for being transgender is legal in 35 states.

Obama campaigned on passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — legislation that would bar such job bias against LGBT people in the public and private workforce — but the bill has languished for years and didn’t even see a committee vote in the last Congress when Democrats were in control of both the House and Senate.

No mention of ENDA or the lack of federal workplace protections for LGBT people was included in the president’s remarks.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, said the president continues to support ENDA, but the purpose of his speech was to address the larger jobs crisis faced by all Americans.

“On Thursday, the President announced that he is sending to Congress the American Jobs Act — a set of ideas supported by both Democrats and Republicans that Congress must pass right away,” Inouye said. “The purpose of the American Jobs Act is simple: put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans, including LGBT Americans. The President has long supported an inclusive ENDA, but Thursday’s remarks were about the American Jobs Act, and not everything we support.”

Despite the lack of any explicit mention, LGBT advocates praised the plan Obama unveiled on Thursday and said the policies would benefit all Americans — including LGBT people.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said Obama’s proposals would be “very positive” for LGBT Americans and transgender people in particular.

Keisling said Obama’s proposal to offer a tax credit of up to $4,000 to companies that hire potential workers searching for a job for more than six months is particularly important to transgender workers.

“We are disproportionately likely to be among the long-term unemployed and disproportionately likely to have faced recessionary discrimination during this current downturn,” Keisling said. “So $4,000 job credits for employers who hire long-term unemployed and prohibiting discrimination against long-term unemployed will be especially helpful and important.”

Keisling said a specific mention of LGBT issues in the speech wouldn’t have been a relevant point for Obama during his remarks.

“It was not at all inappropriate that he did not specifically mention support for specific LGBT priorities,” she said. “It wasn’t that kind of speech.”

Selisse Berry, executive director of the San Francisco-based Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, commended Obama for setting a goal for businesses to be innovative leaders and said companies can achieve the goal by embracing diversity, including LGBT people.

“America’s most successful businesses are doing just that through their policies and practices,” Berry said. “And the president knows the importance of diversity as well, since this administration has taken concrete steps to end discrimination against LGBT people in the federal workforce.”

Following the president’s speech, the White House issued statements from more than 40 organizations and Democratic lawmakers praising the plan. One of the statements in favor of the proposals came from Mary Kay Henry, a lesbian and president of the Service Employees International Union.

“President Obama displayed the leadership America needs by laying out a strong agenda to get America back to work,” Henry said. “The proposals he outlined are an excellent starting point in the crucial effort to create good jobs now.”

Henry called on Congress to take action and said Americans are watching Republicans closely to see if they’ll “play politics” or take action to turn around what she called the national jobs crisis.

“The Republicans’ plan to further cut corporate taxes will do nothing to put Americans back to work, just as the recent record corporate profits have not led to job growth,” Henry said.

In another statement provided by the White House, Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, co-founders of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, spoke out in favor of Obama’s plan.

“President Obama demonstrated strong leadership and clear vision addressing the joint session of Congress,” Nelson and Mitchell said. “While far too many in Washington, D.C. focus on the political horse race, the president shined the spotlight where it belongs; on the millions of Americans, many of them LGBT, who are working too hard to give their families a better life to read the latest poll numbers.”

Nelson and Mitchell took particular note of Obama’s plan to expedite payments to small businesses and to extend payroll tax cuts for these companies.

“As the president said, our recovery will not come from politicians but from businesses and talented individuals throughout the country, including those represented by the NGLCC,” Nelson and Mitchell said. “We agree that business owners need timely payments and tax incentives to pay their employees, hire new staff and invest in new opportunities.

Given the difficulties of passing ENDA with Republicans in control of the House, some LGBT advocates have been calling for an executive order that would prohibit the U.S. government from contracting with companies that don’t have non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. Obama could take such action without concern over having to move legislation through Congress.

During his speech, Obama enumerated some initiatives he could take on his own accord without congressional involvement to improve the job situation — but an executive order for LGBT workers wasn’t among them.

“My administration can and will take some steps to improve our competitiveness on our own,” Obama said. “For example, if you’re a small business owner who has a contract with the federal government, we’re going to make sure you get paid a lot faster than you do now. We’re also planning to cut away the red tape that prevents too many rapidly-growing start-up companies from raising capital and going public.”

Additionally, Obama said his administration would work with federal housing agencies to help more people refinance their mortgages at interest rates that are now near four percent, which he said would put more than $2,000 a year in the pockets of American families.

Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters, is among the LGBT advocates who have been calling on the president to issue such an executive order against LGBT job bias.

Even without mention of the directive, Socarides said Obama gave “a strong political and policy message.”

“It was a high-toned message and I think everyone in the LGBT community very much wants him to succeed at this, as all Americans do,” Socarides said. “And on jobs and labor issues, we will keep reminding him we still need federal protections for all LGBT workers, we still need ENDA, we still need an executive order on federal contracting. And we fully expect he will deliver for us on these, too.”

Joint session of Congress (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Jeri Hughes

    September 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    WE NEED TO PASS THIS BILL….RIGHT AWAY.

    OBAMA 2012

  2. laurelboy2

    September 9, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    We must NOT pass this bill at all. It will add to the deficit. There is nothing in it that hasn’t been proposed before.

    Perry 2012
    Obama= loser. Google “Obama bingo card bullshit” and play the latest game!!

  3. Bill Perdue

    September 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

    The bill as is as bogus as those praising it. The esclusion of any mention of ENDA was to allow Obama to continue his strategy of pandering to bigots.

    After the Republican debates and Obama’s address we got another chance to evaluate the political elites who share power in the US. What we see is more of the same – Democrats and Republicans are political prostitutes who have utter contempt for working people.

    As background keep in mind that it was their votes and signatures on bills that began deregulation under Carter and Reagan. They pushed for exporting trade union jobs under Bush1and Clinton and for the complete deregulation of predatory banksters under Clinton(3). Bush2 eased the way for the banksters to loot the economy, slash the taxes of the rich, export more jobs and embezzle hundreds of billions from the treasury to gift the rich (TARP). Obama’s continued all of Bush’s policies and vastly increased the theft from the treasury to the looter classes.

    By far the worst effect of their bipartisan policies is massive unemployment. It’s hovered around 16% for over two years and involves 25 million unemployed and underemployed. That figure may not mean too much to those who live off stocks and bonds, the managerial class or the political elites. But for working people caught in that nightmare it means unrelenting toxic stress levels, homelessness, malnutrition, poor or no health care, spiraling domestic violence, escalating suicide rates and being victimized by the police and courts when they seek extralegal relief.

    The unemployed, underemployed, the homeless and those tossed without rhyme or reason into the cesspool of poverty are our brothers and sisters. Any one of us, at any time, could end up in their shoes, homeless, hopeless and looking at a unhappy life and an early death.

    When we evaluate the Democrats and Republicans and their attitude towards unemployment it’s useful to examine how they’ve treated the rich. The rich got almost $500 billion dollars in TAX CUTS over the last decade. Add to that the cost of servicing the debt created by those cuts – $400 billion dollars – and the tab comes close to nearly a trillion dollars. The wealthy are not creating jobs, they’re spending that money or hoarding it. Obama and the Democrats publically claim to oppose tax cuts for the rich but they’ve consistently voted for or signed extensions of those tax cuts.

    The rich got TARP, a $700 billion dollar gift to the looters who lost money when their housing bubble burst which will end up costing more than $50 billion dollars. In addition to TARP the rich got 1.25 trillion dollars in recently exposed loans from the Fed.

    The rich got the bulk of the benefits from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which cost $787 billion dollars. Of that roughly $81 billion dollars was used on things like unemployment benefits. Most of it was wasted in sweetheart contracts with corporations and banks. Not one penny went to help people facing foreclosures.

    The cost of the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Bailouts was $317 billion dollars. That money did not stop one foreclosure.

    That equals four trillion, one hundred and fifty four billion dollars. 80 billion was for workers and the rest went to the rich. All these actions will have a trifling effect as the economy slides further and further into the pit. European central banks are holding on by their fingernails, ready to fall and create a landslide that’ll drag the US economy down with them. US inflation rates in energy consumables and foodstuffs are close to 25% excluding the housing market.

    Obama’s new job plan is a rehash of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It’s worthless from the point of view of ending the Depression or ending the nightmare of massive unemployment.

    What’s needed is a 100% tax on annual income totaling over $250,000.00 a year from all sources including income from trusts, investments, and bequests for individuals and families. And since corporations are individuals the same thing should apply to their profits after expense not including payments to stockholders.

    We should abrogate all agreements to pay off the national dept to rich people or foreigners while protecting the few investments of working people.

    Then we can create a real jobs program to zero out unemployment by funding massive Manhattan Project style programs to green industry, agriculture and the infrastructure, guarantee good housing and education, institute socialized medicine and end hunger and malnutrition here and around the world.

  4. Rick Mangus

    September 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Obama is nothing but a bogus politician and a liar who is playing politics, like he did with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, but the suckers in our own community blindly follow him and still defend him to this day like sheep! Obama does not earn our respect or our support in 2012.

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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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