A weekend of fun and educational activities for LGBTTTQQIAA HS youth hosted by students at a small university in Maine

For several years high school youth attending the Rainbow Ball Weekend have been able to participate in a juried talent competition. This year we are expanding to include a juried art contest from youth that explores gender identity and sexual orientation. Our excellent judges, Linda Eastman, Bernie Vinzani, and Libra Gately are artists who have been involved with and supported previous Rainbow Ball Weekends.
The winning pieces will be included in a professional photography exhibit by Linda Eastman at the University of Maine at Machias. The exhibition is supporting the 8th Annual Rainbow Ball Weekend, April 10-12, 2015. The Gallery Opening/Reception is Friday evening April 10th and it is hoped the winners will be able to attend. Food, housing, and transportation support provided.
Submissions are now being accepted on a ‘closed’ facebook page (not available for viewing by the public). The last day to submit is Friday February 27th with winners being announced on Monday March 16th. First, second, third, and honorable mention winners will be contacted about preparing their work to be ready to hang and the address where they need to mail their artwork by March 30th to give time for the Gallery installation in advance of the Rainbow Ball Weekend.

Please read and understand thoroughly the contest procedures below in order to apply and participate in this art competition:
1. Entries must follow the competition theme of being a member or having friends/family members in the LGBTQA community and how this may be a reason for “Growing Up Differently”.
2. Artists 13-18 years of age attending a Maine High School may apply.
3. There is a three-image limit that an artist can submit.
4. The image files of the original artwork must be in JPG format.
5. The image file name needs to include school abbreviation, student last name, and if more than one entry a number to indicate this.
For example: MMHS_Doe_1.jpg
6. Files may not exceed 1MG.
7. Entries may be two- or three- dimensional artwork created in any medium such as painting, drawing, digital, collage, photography, sculpture, textile, an artist’s book, etc. The work can be expressed from realism to abstraction. Video is excluded at this time.
8. Experimental and mixed techniques are welcome.
9. 2D pieces are limited to 24”x 36” and under. 3D should not exceed 36″.

10. A faculty member or club advisor verifies the authenticity of the work and must upload the image entries to the closed facebook page they must ask to join: “Growing Up Differently – Art Contest for LGBTQA HS Youth”
11. The following information is required with the image submission by the school representative: a) their own professional contact information for notification, b) the preferred name of the student, c) name of the school, d) grade in school, e) actual dimensions of the entry which winners will have to mail, f) title if there is one and g) a brief statement by the student of how their art expresses “Growing Up Differently”.
12. Winners are responsible for mailing their entries the week after notification to prepare for installation. Winners are also expected to attend the Gallery Reception at UMM on April 10th. The 100% Society will provide support for attending the weekend of events.

If you have questions or to possibly schedule a school visit regarding the competition theme or rules, please contact Linda Eastman at: aestudio@myfairpoint.net
Please share this info with any applicable high school students!
Creative Commons Licensed Image by Matt DeTurck


2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Viewers in Canada & Russia – who knew? 🙂

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 700 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 12 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.



Rainbow PumpkinsIt’s the time of year when the final harvests are coming in and people are getting together for the holidays.  The rainbow pumpkin image was staged and taken by Heather, our new workstudy student for Rainbow Ball Weekend.  Here’s why she’s invested:

I first heard about Rainbow Ball when I was a senior in high school. I was part of their GSDA (Gay Straight Diversity Alliance) and we were all going to go. I really wanted to go, but my mom wouldn’t let me. I didn’t know that the 100% society from University of Maine at Machias helped with it. I had applied to this school earlier in the year. I decided on going and when I got here I realized that I would be able to go to Rainbow Ball and not only attend, but help with it. I was beyond excited. Rainbow Ball is one of my favorite events of the year. It brings me so much happiness to have a place that I can say that I fit in.

A local community group in our area planted an amazing crop of energy around starting more GSTAs in our county.  I was able to attend their truly inspirational meeting recently and found out there are two new seedling clubs starting and the established high school Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) will help nurture them!

We also discussed the importance of having the T for Transgender in the high school GSA clubs.  Schools really seem to stumble over using the word transgender in the title and the idea of gender variant people.  We must be inclusive in our communities.  We know that having GSTAs in schools makes all students safer.  In Maine, in addition to hearing negative comments from other students, 31% regularly heard school staff make negative remarks about someone’s gender expression and 16% regularly heard staff make homophobic remarks. As one of the students at the meeting said, “we have to educate people”, clearly that must include educators – current and future.

We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving such as 33 states with legal same-sex marriage & 7 more states where the marriage ban has been overturned and are in appeals court.  The State Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Maines family over a school which did not allow their daughter to access the girl’s restroom is precedent setting and a long, hard-fought victory this year that is something we can all be thankful for. If you would like to watch a recent panel on transgender student support that includes Wayne Maines, please click here.

We’re so thankful for all who are working to improve support and acceptance for LGBTQ youth in our communities. We have to turn the corner on the ignorance, fear, and hate that created the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Educate around the Thanksgiving table if you have the chance and may yours be happy! “We are the change we have been waiting for.” Mark your calendars – Rainbow Ball Weekend – April 10-12 2015, Carnival Theme!

Dr. Crittenden led the successful poetry workshop at the Rainbow Ball Weekend in April.  He wrote an example poem to share with the students who participated and with his permission, I have copied it below.  More? Yes, please: Owl Who Laughs The dates for the 8th Annual Rainbow Ball Weekend are April 10-12, 2015. We’ve already started planning!  Hope you’re excited too!

Who Will Hear? by Chris Crittenden

i want to be heard by you

more than anyone

but it seems you are less likely to hear me

than anyone,

and that is part of my shout

as i write this.

but i do know one thing:

someone will hear this poem–someone will.

i’m not sure who or where

but i am not the only one

who has felt the brick wall

of a shoulder turning away;

who has felt the iron gate

of family or community, locking shut.

some people close their thoughts

within layers of fear

to keep who i am from getting in.

this poem is me daring to speak.

this poem is my courage,

singing out in a world that

is often ugly in the ways it perceives.

as i write these words,

i realize there is one person

who needs to hear them

more than anyone else–and that is me.

i deserve to embrace my own voice

and my own right to shout out

and to sing and laugh–

to be proud of who i am.

it does not matter

if this poem earns someone else’s high grade.

just by writing down what I feel, what I think–

that makes this poem special,

and it reminds me that I am special,

and through all the emotions

and all experiences that i will have throughout my life;

and all the joys and hopes; the loves

and sweet memories; and also the

frustrations and fears, and

the walls of ears that just won’t hear me,

through all this,

throughout everything,

i am beautiful —

just the way i am.

What does Rainbow Ball mean to you?

“It is a place with no judgment and 100% supportive.”
“Chance to meet people like me and be happy without being insulted.”
“I can be myself and be with the person I love without being scared.”
“A place to meet other people and not feel left out.”
“A place to be myself, felt at home and like I belong somewhere.”

Those are a few representative comments from high school youth who attended the 7th Annual RBW.  This is the environment and outcome we strive for each and every year for the  Rainbow Ball Weekend.  It is hard for me to write a post that captures the fullness, intensity, openness, exhaustion, euphoria, trepidation, energy, drama, thankfulness, chaos, acceptance, sharing, and love from this year’s weekend.  It’s kinda like not being able to stare at the sun or bottle a rainbow.  No matter the size of the contribution, from sharing information about the weekend, to full immersion of sleeping on floor with youth to look after, to giving a workshop, every contribution mattered to someone and we, the hosts, are so grateful for the help.

Here’s a flavor of the weekend which is easier for the scientist part of me to convey.  Rainbow Ball Weekend 2014 By the numbers:

225+ attendees at the Dance, 188 Total Visitors for the Weekend, 119 High School Youth and Chaperones, 40 college attendees and helpers, 35 Individual UMM Faculty & Staff who supported the weekend, 33 Discrete events (3 planned by youth at one of the attending high schools), 18 OMG Queer books donated by Bold Strokes Books that went to attending high schools, 12 Community partners (Beehive Design Collective, Down East AIDS Network, Downeast GLSEN, Eastman Studios, The Trevor Project, AMHC Sexual Assault Services, Broadway Styles, ImprovAcadia, Equality Maine, Maine Community Foundation Equity Fund, Southern Maine GLSEN, & University of Maine System Diversity Committee), 6 Meals, 6 Workshops for educators/counselors, 6 decoration making craft parties, 3 Absolutely Fabulous Drag Queens hosting the youth talent show, 2 devoted facebook groups, 1 Rainbow Ball Photo Gallery Exhibit, 1 Rainbow Ball poem, 1 work study student, 1 Unity Unicorn giant comic strip, 1 NJ reporter writing a book about the Maines Family’s journey for justice that might end with Wayne & Nicole giving the Rainbow Ball keynote address.

Photo by Christopher Dickinson

Feedback Is a Gift

“Hey Lois-Ann! Could you let me know when applications go up for counselors? 🙂 ”

I was so excited in the fall to get this facebook message from a counselor from last year’s Rainbow Ball Weekend.   They also volunteered to coordinate the southern Maine bus stops again! Awesomeness.

The Rainbow Ball Weekend has changed in some way every year we’ve hosted it.  We take feedback from attendees and make suggested changes when we can.  Sometimes it takes us more than a year because of finances or structure.  For example, we added workshops and crafts and an admissions tour where there weren’t any in the beginning based on feedback from advisors.  We added zumba, martial arts, and belly dance activities based on a suggestion from a parent.  We also add and subtract from the three days based on our experiences of hosting it as well as if something seems important to include in a given year.  We had to nix the rave in the pool when we outgrew the safety regulations.  We added the support groups but learned to make it very clear that someone could go the support group of most interest (gay, bi/pan, ally, asexual, transgender, gender non binary, lesbian, questioning) and that chaperones should not go to these based on student feedback.

This year it seems really important to have a parallel track of workshops for educators and mental health providers for changing and supporting lgbt youth which will help these youth in different ways than the RBW itself.

We want to support college students as well as there isn’t much at many of the campuses in Maine, but it is hard to do both at once.  So  we kinda compromised, we have counselors.  These are former rainbow ball youth and/or current college students from other institutions who get training via distance and are such an amazing addition.

The small crew of 100% and friends, “Ballers”, scurry around decorating, giving workshops, setting up events, answering questions on a round the clock kind of schedule.  So, these designated godsends counselors for groups help provide the youth more of a mentoring experience and help make sure their folks get to where they need to go. Remember,“They put together the weekend’s events with small grants, donations, and volunteers. It is held together with bubble gum, baling wire, lobster traps and Down East love.”  The counselors make it possible for us to continue.

There was a time when we very very very seriously attempted to get a larger campus to host the weekend as it is tough for a tiny campus with few people/resources.  Three types of feedback convinced us otherwise. 1. Our president Dr. Cindy Huggins  encouraged us to keep going here if we could. 2. Our biggest youth supporters OUT! As I Want to Be Rockland  felt that our small, remote, safe campus was a preferred venue for wrangling a group of youth.  3. There wasn’t a larger campus which was jumping up and down to host. Ha!  We recommitted, went all in, and we own this hot glitter mess. 🙂

Action Hero Shout Outs:  There is a real need to support our lgbt youth and their allies and families.  In Maine there are 70 school clubs supported by over 100 amazing advisors who are directly supporting their students and their schools throughout the school year and beyond.   We have much love and admiration for these folks and many of the 100% members can point to an advisor who supported them in school and members want to pay it forward. We are all supported by the regional organizations Southern Maine GLSEN  and Downeast Maine GLSEN  whose members work hard to be networks of support for all the clubs and encourage us too!  Let us know what we can do to make it better for you – we want feedback.  We need your help to improve!

Unity Unicorn

“In a world plagued by darkness and hatred, one hero stands to protect those who shine bright.” Cover page of our Unity Unicorn comic strip prom photo backdrop! Design and photo by Chelsee Acklee

Because our fabulous counselors are there, they also give the traveling school advisors and chaperones some breathing space for networking during RBW.  In no way is this a respite weekend for the school folks and we hope they are willing to keep coming with their kids when they work so hard year round.

Last night I heard from a friend who was studying in Alaska for a couple years that there were folks he’d run into who had heard about Rainbow Ball Weekend!  Sure there is some type of Maine-Alaska corridor, but is was seriously cool to hear!  There was also a wonderful and successful fundraiser at Mount Desert Island High School for Rainbow Ball Weekend and their Black Rose Theater fund with the folks from Improve Acadia http://www.improvacadia.com/ The countdown continues.