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New group joins fight against workplace discrimination

Freedom to Work seeks passage of ENDA in two years



Tico Almeida (photo by Scott Henrichsen)

A new group has formed to push for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and its leaders hope to disband after achieving their primary legislative goal in just two years.

The organization, called Freedom to Work, is headed by Tico Almeida, a civil rights litigator who served as ENDA’s lead counsel on the U.S. House Education & Labor Committee from 2007 to 2010.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Almeida, who’s gay, said he’s personally committed to the passage of ENDA because he’s worked on workplace discrimination issues for several years and cares deeply about the problem.

“My legal career has been about workplace justice issues — not just for LGBT people — but on wage and hour issues, on immigrant workplace issues,” Almeida said. “My passion lies in workplace fairness and that’s what I want to be working in the next few years.”

Joe Racalto, Freedom to Work’s vice president for public policy and development, comes to the organization after working as a senior policy adviser for more than a decade for gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

“Few, if any, issues have dominated my professional and personal life like ENDA,” Racalto said. “I am joining the team at Freedom to Work because I don’t want LGBT workplace issues to get left behind any longer.”

Discriminating against workers — or even firing them — is legal on the basis of sexual orientation in 29 states and on the basis of gender identity in 35 states.

As it currently stands, ENDA would provide federal protections against this kind of discrimination in most situations against LGBT people in the private and public workforce. The legislation is sponsored by Frank in the House and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.

Almeida said the first step for Freedom to Work before the start of the next Congress over the course of the next 14 months is building up its speaker’s bureau of LGBT people who’ve experienced workplace discrimination.

The personal stories of these people in the workplace, Almeida said, will help match statistics and studies showing the problem of workplace discrimination “with compelling stories to personalize the issue.”

“We don’t have that many recent compelling stories to tell — especially compared to the successful advocacy that there was done to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in which dozens and dozens of service members were telling their stories to national media, to newspapers both local and national throughout the course of the year to build up toward repeal,” Almeida said.

Jarrod Chlapowski, development and outreach director for Servicemembers United, said educational and personal stories helped in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and should contribute to the campaign to pass ENDA.

“In every movement, real momentum begins when the political climate is not so favorable and transformational figures choose to lay the basic educational groundwork from which a critical mass for change can be achieved,” Chlapowski said. “This was the model used by Servicemembers United in the movement to repeal [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’], and I am pleased and exhilarated that lessons and tactics learned in the [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal fight are finally being utilized in the movement for full workplace equality.”

Chlapowski is a member of Freedom to Work’s national advisory board and said he’s honored to be part of the organization as it “moves forward with its ambitious vision.”

The organization already has one LGBT individual as a member of its speaker’s bureau who’s experienced workplace discrimination and is calling for passage of ENDA.

Ronald Crump, a sergeant for the Los Angeles Police Department, is a founding member of the bureau and says he experienced discrimination while on the job as a police officer.

After his supervisor targeted him with anti-gay harassment and insults, Crump complained to his superiors, but they responded with further retaliation.

“I was retaliated against and received a transfer that amounted to a demotion after I complained to the L.A.P.D. that my direct supervisor was harassing me for being gay,” Crump said.

According to Crump, he was told by his supervisor: “I was a religion major at Liberty University — Jerry Falwell would roll over in his grave if he knew I hired you.”

Because such discrimination is illegal under California state law, Crump was able to take his claims to a jury in a Los Angeles courthouse and prevailed earlier this year. However, the same legal action wouldn’t be possible in many places in the country.

“I am grateful that earlier this year I got my day in court to prove my case of retaliation, and a jury of my peers agreed with me and awarded a significant verdict,” Crump said. “That was possible only because California laws guarantee LGBT employees the freedom to work without discrimination. If I had worked as a police officer in Philadelphia, Miami, St. Louis or Houston, I never would have gotten my day in court. That’s why we need ENDA.”

Highlighting these stories is what Freedom to Work is focusing on over the course of the 112th Congress. Almeida said he thinks passing ENDA before the end of next year will be a “Hail Mary” and the work for the time being will be on spreading personal stories “so that we start the next Congress much better prepared.”

“And by telling those stories, we think we will change hearts and minds and convince even more Americans — who already overwhelmingly support the bill — but even more Americans that this is the right policy and convince more lawmakers that they should vote ‘yes,'” Almeida said.

Asked when he thinks ENDA will become law, Almeida made a pledge for his organization: Freedom to Work will dissolve after ENDA has been passed into law and is hoping to do so before its two-year anniversary.

“We will exist for the sole purpose of increasing public education about LGBT workplace discrimination and for passing ENDA, and will disband after the statute goes into effect,” Almeida said. “So, it is our goal and would be an enormous success if we dissolve Freedom to Work by our two-year anniversary in the fall of 2013.”

Almeida acknowledged that passage of ENDA might not happen by that time, but said he thinks passage would be a “solid accomplishment” even if it occurred at a later time.

“If it took three years or four years, I still think that would be a solid accomplishment and we would still be very happy with the outcome and dissolve the organization that way,” Almeida said.

Any oversight role that would be needed after ENDA is passed, Almeida said, would be fulfilled by the private bar and other LGBT groups.

“It will always be the case for all civil rights statutes that courts will roll back advances, and Congress may have to come out and fix or improve statutes, and there are a large number of civil rights groups within the LGBT community, outside of it, lawyers’ groups that monitor those things and work on enforcement,” Almeida said.

One issue with ENDA that has instigated discussion — even heated conflict — within the LGBT community is the inclusion of gender identity language in the legislation.

In 2007, Frank dropped the gender identity protections in the legislation after he determined the votes were lacking in the 110th Congress to pass an inclusive version of the legislation.

The House passed the measure 235-184, but the removal of the language caused a firestorm in the LGBT community. The legislation never saw action in the Senate.

Almeida called the inclusion of both sexual orientation and gender identity language “absolutely essential” ingredients.

“It’s a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of unity and solidarity in our community and it’s the best policy,” Almeida said.

Concurrent with the goal of passing ENDA, Freedom to Work also aims to convince President Obama to take administrative action to address workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

Along with other advocates, the organization is pushing for an executive order prohibiting federal money from going to contractors and suppliers that don’t have their own non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“In the next year, one of our main policy areas of focus will be encouraging the Obama administration to create and amend the executive order for federal contractors,” Almeida said. “We will do public education through op-eds, blogs, other social media to increase awareness about how such an executive order will save U.S. taxpayer money and protect LGBT Americans’ freedom to work for federal contractors.”

The order has been seen as an interim alternative to passing ENDA as long as Republicans remain in control of the U.S. House, but Almeida said the legislation and the order are “completely complementary.”

“That is a goal worth pursuing in and of itself because the executive order will have real enforcement powers that the Department of Labor can use on behalf of real life victims of workplace discrimination even before ENDA passes, and even after ENDA passes,” Almeida said.

Having both the order and law in place would provide two avenues for LGBT people seeking remedies for discrimination they’ve experienced in the workplace.

The directive would provide recourse through the Department of Labor while ENDA would provide recourse through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Other workers — including racial minorities and women —have both options to protect them.

Almeida added the order will “build political momentum” and raise the visibility of LGBT workplace discrimination issues to “make getting ENDA through Congress even easier.”

The Obama administration hasn’t said whether it would be open to issuing such an executive order. Still, Almeida said he’s “optimistic” the administration will come through with the directive before the end of the Obama’s first term.

“I’m optimistic because of the Obama administration’s strong record on LGBT issues in the past three years and I’m optimistic because this politically is far easier than some of the things they have already done,” Almeida said.

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  1. Kathy

    October 26, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    “If I had worked as a police officer in Philadelphia, Miami, St. Louis or Houston, I never would have gotten my day in court.”

    All of those places have local nondiscrim laws. I believe they all cover sexual orientation & gender identity.

    • response

      October 26, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      The enforcement procedures on those local ordinances are too week… they will not get plaintiffs to a trial like the one the police officer got in California based on a state statute.

  2. Tom erickson

    October 26, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Tico and Joe: I can think of no better advocates. Where can I give??

  3. Martin

    October 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

    Hopefully they will advocate better than HRC. Good luck to them!

  4. Miguel Barduz

    October 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    This is destined to fail because this new group insists on following the failed tactic of insisting on a bill that covers the very different categories of sexual orientation and gender identity. The two don’t belong in the same bill and when activists insist on all-or-nothing, the get nothing.

    When ENDA was first proposed in the 1990s, it was the result of an approach to seek protections that were least controversial and had the greatest support. So we dropped the prior approach of seeking a comprehensive law that would cover employment, housing and public accommodations in favor of a more limited bill that would cover only employment, but which would be much more likely to actually get passed. That made good sense. And everyone understood that, by limiting the bill, we weren’t accepting or validating discrimination in other areas. It was a matter of making progress and not insisting on getting everything at once.

    Then, bizarrely, we chose to completely undermine this approach by insisting that “gender identity” be added, even though there is very little prospect that such a provision could get passed. And we took an all-or-nothing approach, even though the sexual orientation provision would have passed and could have been enacted into law 2 years ago.

    The result is complete failure. Gay people suffer discrimination without redress because fools like Almeida think it is more important to score political correctness points and show “solidarity” with the fiction of “LGBT”.

    They will fail and they will deserve to fail. But not before they have pocketed a few years’ of good salaries.

    • Hmmm

      October 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm

      The bill has failed every time trans people were thrown under the bus, including in 2007, so I don’t follow your reasoning that including protections for trans people is the key thing holding ENDA back. We suffer the bulk of the actual discrimination in employment, housing, and health care among the LGBT community, yet we’re seen as the most expendable people when it comes to fighting such discrimination. I guess actually combating workplace discrimination is secondary to Meida-Friendly Legislative Victories, and you’re just politically correct if you think otherwise.

    • Babs

      October 28, 2011 at 11:41 pm

      Wrong!! ENDA would have passed in the last session only if Leadership acted, there were not only the votes to pass, but also the votes to kill a motion to recommit. Hey if IBM and Walmart have gender identity in their employment policy…. what’s the big F deal? wake up, it’s 2011!

  5. Kesluk & Silverstein

    November 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    It’s great to see more workplace discrimination advocacy groups organizing their efforts to achieve equality and equal opportunity. We wish them nothing short of success in their endeavors. [URL removed]

  6. Kostas Dactelides

    November 15, 2012 at 1:26 am

    Do you address situations where an employer literally led a witch hunt against me to push me out of the organization once they learned I have Multiple Sclerosis?

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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



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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Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral

Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday



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.

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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



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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