A member of a Critical Incident Stress Management Team, Maria Teahan was deployed twice to respond to Pulse LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
Teahan’s team was one of many from around Florida responsible for helping the police officers and firefighters who responded to the tragedy cope with the aftermath. Many suffered from guilt, for the people they couldn’t save and the colleagues they risked in the process. She said the stories the officers shared seemed as if they were talking about a war zone.
As they processed it, Teahan said they were still unable to really believe that the tragedy of June 12, 2016, had happened.
“They came in yelling, ‘Get up, get up. We’re the police. You’re safe.’ They couldn’t see — it was pitch black — they didn’t realize that all these people on the floor were actually dead,” Teahan said. “It was almost unfathomable.”
Now Teahan is helping make sure the one-year anniversary of Pulse does not go unnoticed.
A year after the tragedy, Barry University’s Center for Human Rights and Social Justice has created a campaign to make sure Miami’s LGBTQ youth feel love, honored and affirmed. Barry’s Office of Student Services is handing out yellow ribbons to be worn as a show of support for the LGBTQ community.
Many say the shooting shed light on the consequences of homophobic hate. More importantly, however, it highlighted the world’s capacity to stand together and give love and support for the LGBTQ community.
“The campaign is named ‘Spread Love Not Hate’ because this tragedy was the epitome of hate against LGBT people,” said Ashley Austin, an associate professor of social work at Barry. “What we want to make sure one year later we are busy spreading love.”
To honor those who have suffered, the Spread Love Not Hate Campaign, in collaboration with Pridelines, is collecting ready-to-eat snacks for youth living on the streets. The center is also asking for nonperishable items such as canned goods, dry pastas and instant noodles. It is also accepting “street snacks” like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and trail mix. Donated items can be dropped of in Room 126 of Powers Hall on Barry’s campus, 11300 NE Second Ave., Miami Shores.
The community is invited to write notes of support and hope that will be delivered to the homeless June 6 and 8 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. and 5 to 6 p.m. in Powers Hall room 132. The goal is to remind homeless teens that they are important and loved, Austin said.
Because there are still instances of ongoing hate, Austin said, the notes of support, affirmations and hope are critical to making sure the LGBT community feels supported.
“Homeless youth are the kids that are clearly impacted by rejection generally because of their identities,” she said. “There are many young people who still need our help and they need us to rise to the occasion.”
The campaign ends at 2 p.m. Monday with a one-hour remembrance ceremony at the Miami Shores campus’ Landon Events Room. The nondenominational gathering led by Campus Ministry will center on a digital painting that will be placed by the chapel altar, Teahan said. Participants will be invited to take rainbow-colored, heart-shaped papers and pin their messages to the board. After the ceremony it will stay at the School of Social Work where people can continue to add hearts to it throughout the rest of the semester. The painting was made by associate professor of social work Heidi Heft LaPorte, who will perform her poem, “Gathering.”
“The digital painting represents the notion that everyone LGBTQ and friends and families of are part of a caring community. The offering is love, which literally can change the world and tip the scales in the direction of healing,” she said. “I hope people walk away feeling a sense of connection and hope.”
“Our focus is on acknowledging the pain and violation of the tragedy, yet leaving everyone with a message of peace and healing,” Teahan said.
On their way out, people will receive bookmarks to commemorate the day of remembrance similar to the ones Teahan made for Barry University nursing and anesthesiology students who responded to the tragedy.
“Neither the memories of those taken nor the community that remains is going to go away. Our hope is that one day there will be no need for agencies that provide services for throw away children because they identify as LGBTQ. Until that day, we have our work cut out for us,” LaPorte said.