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

Posts tagged ‘Happy Happy Joy Joy’

Love You to the Moon and Back!

Has RBW made an impact on your life?: “Knowing there a safe place and more people like me makes me safe.” “Hell yeah, I was able to understand better who I am.” “Met my partner of 3 years at RBW.” “Yes! Makes me want to share my knowledge and resources.”

Loved being able to attend and bring a group of students who acted as “counselors” for student groups or who volunteered in other ways. It was weird and beautiful to be with an attending group instead of hosting :).
Lin Gould as coordinator was amazing, she worked tirelessly and it showed with her attention to every detail, her students also worked very hard and the entire MDIHS was supportive including with a welcome by the principal, others helping through the weekend, and teachers giving up their classrooms for sleeping areas and workshops.  The school was a wonderful facility with the students running everything and they easily accommodated this huge group (>300).  One of the dinners was provided by three “local” UU faith groups. Thanks to all the numerous generous donors who made this weekend even possible!!!

The Rainbow Ball Village moved!!  Having a High School offer the weekend instead of a college was amazing. Most importantly having a high school take ownership of the weekend with the support of faculty, staff, and administration is a powerful message to LGBT youth and more importantly to other high schools. The message being that we support and honor our LGBT youth just like our other students. BTW, if you attended/brought youth, PLEASE! consider filling out the online evaluation form to help us establish what this experience has been doing over the years!

Youth shared their wonderful talents bravely Friday night with a crowd that would shout words of encouragement for fumbles and false starts instead of jeers. There were powerful performances by RBW returning professional drag queens, Chanel Honeywell and Lyzz Bien, Indigenous Diva,  as well as a quick-thinking empowering emcee.  The youth made tons of friends and were able express their identities freely.  They shared clothes and advice and songs and memes and praise.  There were workshops and crafts and the youth with helpful adults put out a resonating “zine”.  There was a “career expo” with various agencies and academic groups in attendance that encouraged dialog about career pathways.  25 copies of Dov Zellers’ The Right Thing to Do published by Tiny Golem Press were donated and distributed to attending schools and groups for library lending.  Two of many exceptional people working on behalf of LGBT youth were recognized by UMM’s 100% Society, Gia Drew, Program Director, Equality Maine and Tara Kierstead, School Counselor, Halldale High School.

There was a space for people to contribute clothing and bedding that were free for the taking.  There was HIV testing by the Health Equity Alliance.  There was a very powerful keynote address by Robin Fowler owner of the Maine Alpaca Experience.  She and her wife also brought Alpaca fiber and a spinning wheel to show to youth and offered for craft projects.  The dance was beautiful and for those who preferred more quiet, moderated dungeon and dragons games.  The folks from OUT Maine, the “forever home” of the Rainbow Ball weekend/festival, were in attendance for the weekend to observe and support as well.  Most of the steering committee who had worked so hard all year long to make sure RBW continued were there either with their school youth or helped with security or food distribution.

As the coordinator for the previous 10 years, it was incredible for me to be there personally to see the RBW continue and sustain.  Some of the UMM students in the past even brought youth groups to this year’s RBW. The evolution of high school student attendees serving as “counselors” after they graduate, and some even returning with their own groups themselves is magical.  The MDI HS had early on established themselves as a true high school partner bringing their own bus and crafts and activities for other youth to do.  OUT Maine in its former incarnation as the OUT As I Want To Be Rockland group was the first group to attend the first Rainbow Ball (2008) and was a regular source of communication, suggestions, and inspiration over so many years.  It feels like what the UMM students originally wanted to give to rural school LGBT youth has come full circle with more than we could have ever hoped for.  I’m so grateful for this vibrant network of loving people working so hard to improve the lives of these youth and the youth who will imagine themselves with futures in all types of careers and spaces and giving back to their community.

“Rainbow Ball doesn’t just change lives, it saves lives.” Ayrca LèStrange

 

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Safety Dance

“It means a home that’s accepting that I don’t have and a weekend to have friends that won’t look at me differently. It means staying alive.”

2017 student attendee

The word safe means different things to different people. For minority folks, feeling safe is also a type of freedom – freedom of expression – freedom to be who you are without fear of physical abuse, emotional torment, and/or public shaming-humiliation-shunning. I’ve had my paws on over a thousand feedback comments for 10 years from Rainbow Ball Weekend attendees and the number one descriptor to the prompt “What Does the Rainbow Ball Mean to You?” is: safe. Next up in popular descriptors is: free. On the one hand all of us at UMM are over the moon that we consistently delivered this safe and freeing weekend. On the other hand, it is striking how much work is left to be done so that minority youth feel safe and free every day in every space they occupy. Thus, as my students say, I’m hit with “all the feels” – simultaneous joy and sorrow and rage and love, etc., ugh.

So steering this trainwreck of tumultuous emotions toward the happy happy joy joy dance station – we have a safe space to host the 11th Annual Rainbow Ball Weekend Village April 27-29, 2018 at Mount Desert Island High School near Bar Harbor and with a theme of “OUT with Alexander Hamilton”!!!!!! There is a dedicated crew working away to sustain the Rainbow Ball Weekend, please msg if you want to volunteer.

Image designed by Michaela Girard (RBW Photographer)

It’s sad to say goodbye to hosting the RBW and to recent graduates who helped so much the last 3-4 years of Rainbow Ball – AB, HH, CR, & DG.  But I’m stoked with our returning members of the 100% Society and that we will be continuing to help out at MDIHS next year! We were thrilled that our tiny campus made the Campus Pride top 30 LGBT-friendly college index – AGAIN and RBW helped us get there!

While we prepared for the last Ball, we were deeply saddened by the news of the deaths of two former attendees: Charles Maze Knowles, youth and Mitzi Lichtman, chaperone.  Please keep their memories and their family and friends in your hearts.

This last Rainbow Ball Weekend at UMM was phenomenal with over 200 guests staying the whole weekend thanks to generous fundraising from folks like Danni and all the youth pitching in.  Here’s a quick recap:  St. Aiden’s comfy; food outstanding (MMHS Culinary, Annie’s Everything Nice, Sodexo); DJ Enile8 and the dance spectacular; the workshops engaging; Geo’s keynote sublime; the Talent Show and Drag Queens superlative (with the fabulous Chanel & Hurricane Bertha from the early years!!); the donated Harmonious Hearts book compelling; the counselors and chaperones lovingly dedicated; and the Ballers righteous.

Take the spirit of safety, freedom, family, and love that infuses the Rainbow Ball Weekend with you into your mundane lives and hold each other close.  Along your journey think about channeling this love into advocacy if you aren’t already doing so. Consider the Safe Group of Outright Portland, Voice of Maine Women, Disability Rights Maine, Maine Transnet, Maine Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Coalition, Equality Maine LGBTQIA Rights,  Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, HEAL Support for those HIV+ and those with Substance Use Disorders, Operation Breaking Stereotypes, immigration etc Mano en Mano | Hand in Hand and so many more!

Rest in Peace

“As a member of SAFE Group–Portland Outright’s team of LGBTQ+, gender-nonconforming and allied youth organizers inside Long Creek Youth Development Center–Maze was a powerful, thoughtful, and fearless leader. He embodied a quiet power that came from seeing people’s whole truth, an unflinching commitment to loving each other boldly no matter what, and naming clearly a vision of safety and justice big enough for all of us. He made people feel welcome and so invited each of us to invest in each other’s safety, well-being, and resilience. Even on bad days he was a beacon. We honor his vision, his life, and love him with the same fierceness he inspired in all of us.”

“May everyone live a long, loving, and healthy life. It’s been great knowing, loving, playing, laughing, crying, singing, working, lobbying, advocating, and protesting with all of you. We all came together in different ways at different times and we made a difference in each other’s life and the world around us. Keep living and doing and making the world a better place. Be the best you can be.  Carry on without me but do remember my strong spirit and open heart.

Mitzi Joy Lichtman 2017 from SAGE Newsletter

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