“Connection Is the Antidote”: Psychological Distress, Emotional Processing, and Virtual Community Building Among LGBTQ Students After the Orlando Shooting

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Abstract

Scholars have called for increased research on the process by which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people cope with stigma and hate-related incidents. Homophobic hate crimes, for example, may have a ripple effect within the LGBTQ community, in which individuals beyond the immediate victim experience psychological distress and, in some cases, vicarious traumatization. The present case study examines the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral responses of LGBTQ individuals to the 2016 Orlando mass shooting, an event conceptualized as an anti-LGBTQ hate crime. On the day of the Orlando shooting, a group of graduate students who were connected through a listserv related to sexual orientation and gender diversity received a prompt intended to facilitate open discussion and emotional processing regarding the Orlando shooting. Thirty-three LGBTQ psychology graduate students participated in the virtual discussion. The content within this conversation thread was reviewed and organized into six thematic categories: (1) emotional distress, (2) personal significance of the event, (3) feelings of in-group isolation and community connectedness, (4) self-care and coping strategies, (5) the need for action, and (6) expressions of gratitude for the discussion forum. Implications are discussed in light of literature on community reactions to hate-motivated violence, virtual community support, and LGBTQ coping strategies.

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