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Boston doctor has a message for LGBTQ+ community in wake of Colorado shooting

“You are loved. So very much.”

A message is attached to a rainbow colored stuffed animal, part of a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at Club Q, a gay nightclub, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. David Zalubowski / AP

After learning that a gunman had opened fire inside an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five and injuring 25 more, Dr. Scott Hadland found himself “despondent and angry.”

Taking to social media, he poured those emotions into words, describing his community’s prolonged fight for safety and criticizing leaders who — despite decrying last week’s shooting — support homophobic and transphobic laws.

Then Hadland, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, shared a message for LGBTQ+ families, friends, and communities: “You are loved. So very much.”

“Young LGBTQ+ people are surrounded by messaging likely to make them feel unvalued,” Hadland explained in an email interview. “Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and the surrounding debate leave young people feeling as though the lives they live are somehow morally wrong. Violence against LGBTQ+ people leaves them feeling unsafe.”

He said he wanted to be part of the counter-messaging, letting LGBTQ+ people — and specifically youth — “know that so many of us care about them and are fighting for a world in which they can thrive.”

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When LGBTQ+ people are targeted, young people watch and internalize the homophobia and transphobia they see, Hadland explained.

He cited a recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that roughly one in four lesbian, gay, and bisexual teenagers had attempted suicide during the first half of 2021, compared to about 5% of their heterosexual peers. Rates may be even higher among trans youth, Hadland said. 

“It is already a difficult time for LGBTQ+ youth, who have watched as hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state houses across the country,” he said. “For our community to be specifically targeted with violence — as it so often has in our country’s history — is particularly deleterious for young people.”

Hadland said his teen patients often want to talk when a mass shooting occurs or anti-LGBTQ+ laws are passed or debated. 

“I always check in with my patients following acts of violence against young people and marginalized communities. I start with a simple question: ‘How are you doing?’ and give space for my patients to share what they’re feeling,” Hadland explained. 

He added: “I worry about the well-being of my patients as two of our country’s greatest problems — stigma against LGBTQ+ people and gun violence — coincide here.”

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Hadland’s advice for supporting LGBTQ+ friends and family in the wake of Colorado Springs? 

“Check in with them,” he said. “Many LGBTQ+ people are struggling right now for all the reasons mentioned above.”

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