Support for Orlando shooting victims helping ease emotional pain
Attitudes around LGBT slowly changing but more work needs to be done, says former Calgarian
Receiving support from around the world is helping heal wounds exposed by the mass shooting in Orlando that left 49 dead and 53 injured, said a former Calgarian now living in Florida.
"In the past if there was a tragedy or murder or something within the gay community it was either ignored or made fun of or people would say, 'It's God's will' or 'You deserved it,'" Allan Barsky told the Calgary Eyeopener on Tuesday.
"And we've just been feeling an overwhelming concern and compassion from people all over the country and Canada."
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A professor of social work at Florida Atlantic University, Barsky worked at the University of Calgary from 1996 to 2000 before moving to Fort Lauderdale with his husband, Greg, who he met while on a sabbatical.
The shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando was a wakeup call of sorts, said Barsky, showing there is still a lot of work to be done even though progress has been made around LGBT rights.
"You never like to wish for these types of events to happen but when they do happen I think we want to turn the evil into good and I think there's a lot of people who really are trying to do that," he said.
"We still have kids who are being harassed and teased in schools, the issues with the transgender community and how they've been treated by the laws in North Carolina and Alabama, and there's been different anti-gay legislation in our own government here in Florida."
The legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. was one of many big steps that needs to be taken, he added.
"I think everybody realizes there's still lots of discrimination and still lots of people who are living in fear of losing their jobs, and losing their families, and losing all sorts of support," he said.
Hearing hundreds attended a vigil at Calgary's Olympic Plaza was uplifting for Barsky.
"I remember the first gay pride event there — it was almost like it was in the closet it was so small, now things have really changed," he said.
"We wouldn't have seen it even 10 or 20 years ago, that amount of support and that amount of concern across international boundaries, so that's certainly been a positive aspect of it."
The shooting has re-ignited the debate over gun ownership laws in the U.S.
"There's pretty broad consensus here in the U.S. that there's certain types of arms that should be banned but the government has never been able to come together to do that," said Barsky.
"There's also broad support for universal background checks and we still don't have it. We know the shooter in this case had mental health history and somehow got through the system."
Tolerance, acceptance needed
Being gay in Florida isn't that much different from being a gay man in Calgary, said Barsky.
"On the whole you have the gamut in both countries where there's people who are very supportive and people who are not supportive," he said.
"It also depends on what part of Canada and what part of the United States. I've been gay bashed in Calgary and I've been gay bashed here in Florida but also have had very positive experiences in both places."