LGBTQ community, United Ways offer support following Orlando shooting

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Orlando Ribbon

Following the shooting at an Orlando, Fla. nightclub June 12, the Cleveland LGBTQ community rallied in solidarity, offering support to those mourning. United Way of Greater Cleveland, Equality Ohio and the LGBT Community Center are providing support services for those affected.

Forty-nine were killed and more than 50 injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, at Pulse Nightclub, a gay bar in Orlando. The shooting took place during Pride Month, while many individuals are celebrating LGBTQ history and civil rights triumphs.

One of the victims was Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, originally from Cleveland. The 20-year-old’s mother still lives in the area. A GoFundMe was started by Ocasio-Capo’s friends to defray funeral costs.

Starting Monday, in addition to their regular programming, the LGBT Community Center will have counselors from several local facilities, as well as chair massages and 15-minute wellness checks in the afternoon and evening.

Ryan Zymler, community relations coordinator, said that, the center is on hand, supporting community members and continuing to celebrate Pride Month during this difficult time.

“It’s obviously a really tough time for us right now,” Zymler said. “It’s a collective loss. It’s, of course, also pride month, so while we’re in the midst of celebrating all of the things that are wonderful about being who we are, about being LGBTQ people, we’re also mourning and standing witness to an active battle for our rights and our safety.”

According to Zymler, the center needs supporters to actively confront intolerance or those who try to legitimize violence against LGBTQ folk, including verbal harassment and jokes.

“They dehumanize us as a community, which makes it easier for folks to take actions like this,” he said.

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 2-1-1 is available 24 hours a day to connect those in need with grief counseling and other support services, including those tailored to the LGBTQ community. Those seeking local help can call or chat with a trained staff person via It covers 22 counties, including Cuyahoga, Medina and Stark.

“So when someone calls in, we’ll do a brief assessment of their need,” Diane Gatto, director of 2-1-1 at United Way of Greater Cleveland, said. “Basically, trying to understand what they’re looking for. So it might be counseling, it might be help for drug and alcohol abuse, it might be food or utilities, it could be any type of need.”

2-1-1 staff will then talk to the caller to better assess what resources are available to them. They can then connect the caller with neutral services, often offering different options to best fit the caller’s need. Recently, 2-1-1 also implemented a chat feature, which will allow users to receive resource counseling via the internet.

“It opens us up to people who would otherwise not call,” Gatto said. This includes young people and professionals that can access this information privately while at work. It is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Those in crisis are urged to call the toll free, national peer counseling LGBTQ hotline at 1-888-843-4564 or visit

Gwen Stembridge, Northeast Ohio coordinator for Equality Ohio, is urging supporters to wear white ribbons in solidarity with the victims and their families. The LGBT civil rights organization has provided a link to a template to make one out of copy paper.

Stembridge also asks that people donate to Equality Florida’s, the state’s LGBTQ civil rights organization, GoFundMe page, which supports the victims and their families.

Several vigils are being held throughout Ohio this week, including:

Youngstown: Mahoning County Court, June 13th, 9:00 p.m.

Toledo: One Government Center, Tuesday, June 14th, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Dayton: Courthouse Square, Thursday, June 16th, 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Latest News

Teenage book lover collects 25,000 books for needy kids
Read More
Parents swimming with Child - Photo used from United Way Worldwide post
3 Ways to Keep Kids Safe this Summer
Read More
Heroes Unite Cleveland Community Celebration featuring Welshly Arms
Why? United Way Heroes Unite!
Read More
Read All News