Photo: Aidan Bartos / Unsplash
“Last year, I was getting out of the military, and I was in the D.C. area,” says Sara Laszaic. “I knew I wanted to connect with the LGBTQ community and wanted to see if there were any support groups out there. I stumbled across The DC Center in the midst of my search, and talked to the executive director at the time, who told me there wasn’t a group for military members or first responders but that I was welcome to start one if I’d like. I said, ‘Yes, I’d like to start one. I think there’s a need for it.'”
So Laszaic founded The Center’s Military and First Responders Group. She and co-facilitator Nick Harrison underwent training to learn techniques for promoting discussion among members — who include not only active-duty military members, and first responders, but veterans, reservists, and military spouses or partners. In May 2019, they held their first meeting.
“There is no therapist — the group is all peer-led,” says Laszaic, who previously served as a police officer and was in the military for 10 years, experience she uses to inform the type of issues she broaches with group members.
“I’ll throw out a lot of different issues that I think are pertinent to military veterans or first responders,” she says. “We talk about issues that affect the LGBTQ community, particularly for those in the military and talk about how we feel, how it’s affected us, and try to support each other through it.”
“A normal meeting could be just about anything,” says Harrison. “We’ve talked about transitioning from the service. We’ve talked about some of the struggles that people in the LGBTQ community have had integrating in the military and how they’ve dealt with that. We’ve talked about day-to-day life, how it is after the military and sort of what that adjustment is like. It really depends on what [issues] the people coming to the group bring with them.”
Perhaps most importantly, the identity of the group’s members, and any comments they make during the course of a group session, are kept strictly confidential due to the sensitive nature of some of the topics they discuss.
“People can come to the group and share as much as they want,” says Harrison. “So people can come in, get whatever they need to off their chest, and then leave, knowing that nobody in that group is going to share any of that information.”
The DC Center’s Military and First Responders Support Group meets on the second Thursday of every other month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at The DC Center, 2000 14th St. NW, Suite 105. Call 202-682-2245 or visit www.thedccenter.org.
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