How to Talk About the Orlando Massacre At Work

June 13, 2016, 3:49 PM UTC

Early yesterday morning, a lone gunman identified as Omar Mateen killed 50 people and wounded at least as many more in an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Mateen reportedly declared his allegiance to the Islamic State in a call to 911 before he opened fire.

It was “Upscale Latin Saturday,” a weekly Latin-themed night of what should have been salsa music and celebration. The stories that are still developing from the event describe a scene of nearly unimaginable horror. If you’re willing to overlook the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, then it is the deadliest mass shooting event in U.S. history.

But it is also the deadliest event targeting LGBT people in U.S. history. That it happened during Pride Month, a celebration which arose from police brutality and other violence against LGBT people, is a particularly wrenching detail.

In televised remarks to the nation, a depleted looking President Obama said, “This is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation – is an attack on all of us.”

And yet, it will not be a normal workday for millions of people who are still processing the event, and feeling anguish either as a member of a targeted group, a closeted one, or one who by virtue of their faith, operates under a cloud of very public suspicion. This makes it a challenging moment for people who do inclusion work or lead diverse teams or organizations.

“When we’re not in crisis, in times of common peace, diversity is something we say that we celebrate,” says David Kyuman Kim, professor of religious studies and American studies at Connecticut College, and whose work focuses on race, religion, moral theory and public life. “But in times of crisis, we become aware that for some folks, danger is ever present in their lives, and what happened in Orlando is less exceptional than we would like to believe.”

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Reverend Mariclea Chollet, who trains and educates institutional chaplains – corporate, hospice and military – says to expect that safety might be top of mind for many people, which may reveal ways in which they feel vulnerable at work. “Managers need to generate a forum in the workplace for conversations that address issues of safety and foster resilience,” she says. “And they need to be open to the many different understandings of what safety might entail, and be willing to navigate those differences in a way that are inclusive for all.”

But this is also a uniquely human opportunity to connect. Kim says as tempting as it is to want to look away from any crisis, the opposite is actually the way forward. “We have a responsibility to draw our attention to co-workers, to community members and ask a simple question – ‘how are you doing?’” he says. “And then listen, really listen, as if you don’t already know the answer.”


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