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Black pastor against same-sex marriage admits NOM connection

Owens says Obama betrayed civil rights movement

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CAAP, Coalition of African-American Pastors, logo

Black clergy members decried President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage during a news conference on Friday as a betrayal of the black civil rights movement as they admitted limited financial ties to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

Rev. William Owens, founder and president of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, held the conference standing along with a group of nearly 30 black religious leaders as part of the organization’s annual leadership summit, which this year took place at the Hyatt Regency in Arlington, Va.

“The president sold us out,” Owens said. “He is in the White House because of the civil rights movement and mainly because of the African-American community, who voted for him 97 percent to be president. He sold us out for money — no other way. The African-American community represents 13 percent of the population, the gay and lesbian community represents three percent. So it wasn’t for the votes; it was for the money. I called him Judas then, and I call him Judas now.”

Saying Obama was elected on the backs of slave laborers and the civil rights movement, Owens said any president who would be first black man in office and endorse same-sex marriage deserves to be kicked out. Later, under questioning from reporters, Owens said his organization wasn’t making an endorsement of any candidate in the election.

In the wake of internal documents from NOM leaked earlier this year, Owens was asked by CNN’s Dan Merica about having a connection with the anti-gay group. The pastor confirmed the anti-gay group compensates him.

“They pay my salary,” Owens said. “My wife … has an earned doctorate from Vanderbilt University and I have three degrees, we make a combined salary of $20,000 a year because they were kind enough to pick us up, because we did not have funds, and they said we can put you in the budget for $20,000. So we are in relationship with them and I’m very proud of it.”

Internal memos leaked earlier this year revealed the organization planned to divide blacks and gays within the Democratic Party using same-sex marriage as a “wedge” issue. Owens defended NOM against any wrongdoing.

“I read that; I know of the story,” Owens said. “But I work with the National Organization for Marriage and I’ll defend them, I will defend them, I will defend them. I don’t know what they said; I wasn’t there. But I know their hearts.”

In a follow-up question from CNN on whether he’s a tool for message, Owens replied, “I’m nobody’s tool. Bill Owens is nobody’s tool. They’ve never tried to use me as a tool. They have helped me because I asked for it. I went to them. They didn’t come to me. I went to them and asked them to help us because we needed help. I’m nobody’s tool.”

The news conference was held in coordination with NOM, but no one directly affiliated with the organization was before or near the podium. Brian Brown, NOM’s president, stood in the back the room as the news conference proceeded. Asked by the Washington Blade why Brown was absent from the podium, Owens said the conference was an opportunity to show that his organization is “black-led.”

Speaking with the Blade after the news conference, Brown denied that Owens’ motives for speaking at the news conference were financially based, but acknowledged his organization had donated to Owens about $20,000.

“It’s ridiculous,” Brown said. “Rev. Owens was already doing what was doing before he came to us and asked us for help. Obviously, as a coalition, we’re going to help as many partners as possible. The Human Rights Campaign does the same thing. But these folks were already out there. I’ve seen Bishop Owens at a number of rallies; we’ve worked together in the past and was already doing his thing before NOM ever got involved.”

The conference happened at the exact time as a news conference took place at the National Press Club in D.C. where other black clergy members — including Rev. Al Sharpton — spoke favorably about same-sex marriage and the need to uphold the same-sex marriage law at the ballot in November.

Asked by a reporter about Sharpton and whether good people of faith can disagree, Owens replied, “Of course, good people of faith, but I don’t think they’re disagreeing from a faith position. I wonder if they have any. … They faith in something, but I don’t believe it’s God.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, drew on the opposing conference at the National Press Club as evidence that the conference from the NOM-sponsored organization doesn’t reflect the views of black Americans.

“NOM continues to divide American along racial lines but the fact of the matter is that a growing coalition of Americans of all identities are coming to the conclusion that there’s no good reason to exclude gay and lesbian couples from marriage,” Cole-Schwartz said. “The array of African-American ministers speaking out for marriage equality in Maryland today is proof positive of the turning tide.”

During the news conference, Owens said he’s spoken out against same-sex marriage in every state for several years where it’s come to the ballot and announced a campaign starting in North Carolina on Oct. 7 where he would travel swing states in the presidential election — including Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania — to talk about limiting marriage to one man, one woman.

“In every state where it has been on the ballot, the African-American community has voted way ahead of the other population standing for marriage between a man and a woman,” Owens said. “Certain politicians have taken it on themselves to decide that it’s OK, it’s already for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman, and we disagree, and we stand and we fight for what the Bible says.”

For Proposition 8, exit polls showed black California residents voted at a higher rate than other groups in favor of the measure, but those numbers have been refuted by reports that followed. While Owens touted the importance of the black civil rights movement, according to a report in The Huffington Post, little evidence exists suggesting he had a role in those efforts.

Pastors who were before the podium tied their to same-sex marriage to the economic challenges facing black people in the United States, which has been shown endure higher employment and lower education than others during the recession facing the economy.

Bishop David Hall, prelate of the First Jurisdiction of Western Tennessee and pastor of the Temple Church God of Christ, warned that “marriage and human sexuality should not be subject to or governed by the whims and feelings of special interest groups or politicians” while later speaking out against the economic plight of black Americans.

“The moral principles which represent God have been denigrated by political philosophies, special interest and weakened metaphors,” Hall said. “The godly morality has been replaced by political expediency. CAAP is tired of status quo and the statistical evidence that places blacks at the bottom. Blacks suffer from the lowest educational opportunities, highest recidivism, highest out of marriage pregnancies, etc. It is time for a revival. We need change in our homes, communities and institutions.”

Others who spoke at the news conference against same-sex marriage included Alveda King, the niece of the civil right leaders Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Lewis Ford, brother to former U.S. House Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee; and Rev. Dean Nelson, vice chair of the Frederick Douglass Foundation.

Pastor Stephen Broden, a Republican who once ran against incumbent Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), expressed concerned about the legalization of same-sex marriage for what he said was taking the country away from its religious roots.

“The definition of marriage is under assault by cultural progressive ideologues,” Broden said. “Make no mistake about it — this is an attempt to flip our nation away from its Judeo-Christian heritage and replace it with a godless paradigm that sourced in human secularism. These people seek to dispossess this nation of its Judeo-Christian values, and what we are witnessing is a titanic clash between two world views: the godless human secularism against Judeo-Christian Christianity. We can not, we must not sit quietly and allow these ideologues to determine our values.”

The Washington Blade noted the case of Loving v. Virginia, which allowed interracial marriage in the country, is often considered parallel to the efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, but Owens denied any similarities.

“There is no parallels because it was a racist scene; America was racist,” Owens said. “I had white friends when they first stated integration, and they were truly good people, and we were laughing, we were talking, but when they were around other white people, they’d acted like didn’t know me. So it was racist. This has nothing to do with race.”

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Willy Braxton

    September 21, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I would respect Rev. William Owens more if he didn’t accept money from NOM to act like a nincompoop. So sad that a pastor would essentially prostitute himself and wife for only $20,000. He needs to start reading the Bible.

  2. Susan

    September 21, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    There are none so blind as those who will not see. It is truly hideous to see this reaction from people who not only should know better, but who are making themselves hypocrites into the bargain

  3. TonyaA6

    September 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

    Sooo…the right Rev says he and his wife receive a salary; NOM says it was a donation. Part of the money raised by OFA goes toward hiring organizers at, I believe, $16,000 until the end of the campaign. But the highly educated right Rev and his highly educated wife received $20,000 from NOM. Combined? Dude. You were used, you made a fool of yourself and you’re encouraging the members of your congregation to vote against their best interests. IMHO

  4. Thom

    September 22, 2012 at 5:56 am

    This man sounds like a Herman Cain clone. Stupid but insisting that he’s intelligent. He’s one of NOM’s 47%.

  5. Dave Spicer

    September 22, 2012 at 6:56 am

    That last paragraph does indeed have parallels with the LGBT community. I can easily imagine Owens chatting privately with a gay friend, but acting quite differently when others were around, so that they wouldn’t think he might be one of “them”…

  6. Charles

    September 22, 2012 at 8:21 am

    It was said in the article, “The moral principles which represent God have been denigrated by political philosophies, special interest and weakened metaphors,” I wonder if he is aware of old testament guidelines and definitions of different types of marriages and relationships. You know, polygamy, allowance of concubines, incest, marriage rape, ect. Or how about the ancient word for gay people, (natural) eunuch. This is how we really are referred to in the Bible. Back then we were not subjugated to the laws of natural men. It was after the bible was written that the Catholic church added us to the laws of natural men and thus the first “closet” we were forced into was created. Sadly though, the real message of Love, Love taught in the new testament has been lost in the process.

  7. DWOHIO

    September 22, 2012 at 8:46 am

    Wow…he has some nerve saying Obama is a “judas” who sold out for money. Obama is a poster child for opportunity and success despite racial barriers. By supporting gays and lesbians he is merely helping others overcome social barriers. This “Reverend” admits his salary and income are the result of this anti-gay group and they PAY him to say this drivel. Even Judas thought he was doing the right thing, which is why Jesus forgave him.

    What a jackass. He should lose his position at the church for such hypocrisy.

    • CC

      September 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

      I know, we can’t say anything bad about OBOZO!

  8. livnfre

    September 22, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Wow….Obama is an A hole and all his peeps following him. i personally think its the awesome thing that a black person (wishing it was back then colon powel or condalese rice…sp?…) he is bad for the USA and bad for the USA People. Its a shame what disaster he has done in 4 yrs rather than improve. I want the millionaire to help me make some money….and yes, he led a state, he can lead a country. And F the obamacare…that is the biggest scare that ALL americans should FEAR! Obama to FEAR. I FEAR him… I FEAR his re-election! GOD (or yor higher power) help us ALL!

    • F Young

      September 25, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      livnfre, I clicked the “Translate” button, but your comment still did not make sense.

    • Rudy

      October 22, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Say idiot!! sit there and hold your breath until the millionaire helps YOU make some money and to think we live among your type. YOU DWOHIO…

  9. Chutney

    September 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    The man is a bought and paid for tool of oppression.

  10. Karl Dean

    October 22, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    The white church I go to, told all to go out and vote… But told me in private to stay home…WTF I told him.

  11. Shirley Tolliver

    October 23, 2012 at 5:07 am

    Good article – LET US EXERCISE our RIGHT.

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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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