Metro-East News

St. Louis group offers grief counseling after Orlando attack

As millions process the attack on an Orlando gay nightclub, in which 50 people were killed Saturday night and more than 50 wounded, the Crime Victim Advocacy Center in St. Louis is offering grief counseling for those affected by the tragedy.

Even though the attack was far away, it can have wide-reaching effects because the people who were targeted — gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — were only representatives of that community in the eyes of the shooter and not people themselves, said Jessica Meyers, the Director of Advocacy Services for the organization.

“It’s not who you are, it’s what you are,” she said.

The FBI, which classifies hate crimes, has not released its position on the Orlando shooting, but others aren’t waiting for one.

Peace is the only acceptable method of worship, and anyone who uses Islam to justify a violent act against an innocent life is not a true Muslim.

Amy Nabulsi, Belleville Mosque and Islamic Education Center

“Attacking Any Gay Bar Is a Hate Crime,” is the title of an editorial by Lucas Grindley in response to the shooting. Grindley is an editor for Here Media, which publishes The Advocate, a magazine about the LGBT community, among other things.

“Attacking one of these places is like attacking our movement’s history, and our personal histories,” Grindley wrote. “Watering holes and dance clubs are where we grow up, commiserate, and fall in love. An attack on them is an assault on our way of life.”

U.S. Representative Alan Grayson, D-Florida, who represents the Orlando area that includes the Pulse nightclub, agreed.

“It might be that we’ve seen the commission of an awful hate crime,” he said according to NBC News.

“We completely condemn any acts of violence towards any other person and we grieve with victims of these horrific acts,” a statement from the Belleville Mosque and Islamic Education Center said.

“We are currently celebrating a beautiful month, Ramadan, where we search for ways to serve humanity in our quest to serve God,” the statement continued. “Peace is the only acceptable method of worship, and anyone who uses Islam to justify a violent act against an innocent life is not a true Muslim.”

There were 109 reported hate crimes in Illinois in 2014, according to the FBI, and 26 of those attacks were motivated by bias against someone’s sexual orientation.

109 Number of hate crimes reported to police in Illinois in 2014

The Crime Victim Advocacy Center will have four counselors available, including for Illinois residents. There are no requirements as to who may schedule an appointment.

“We’re also seeing clients ... who feel unsafe because of this crime,” Meyers said. That includes anyone who belongs to a historically marginalized group for whom attacks like the one in Orlando aggravate emotional wounds, she said.

The Advocacy Center “takes a really wide view of what victimization is,” Meyers said. “This shooting can bring up all those past traumas.”

Right now, the organization is relying on word-of-mouth and contacts with other advocacy organizations to let people know they can get in touch with the Advocacy Center if seeking counseling. The center can be reached at 314-652-3623.

“It’s normal to be upset ... but that’s not the way you have to live,” Meyers said.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel

What to know

  • The Crime Victim Advocacy Center is offering counseling to anyone having trouble coping with the mass shooting over the weekend in Orlando, Fla. To make an appointment, or for more information, call 314-652-3623.