Save Rainbow Weekend for Rural Maine LGBTQ Youth

Save Rainbow Weekend for Rural Maine LGBTQ Youth

Crowdfunding Completed: January 19, 2018

Amount Funded: $8418

Project Owner: UU Ellsworth, ME

Short Description of Project

Help save Rainbow Ball Weekend for 250 LGBTQ & allied rural Maine youth. 10-year success building hope and resiliency, new host found, $ needed.

How was this project connected to UU?

The UU Church of Ellsworth, the nearest UU congregation to Rainbow Ball Weekend’s new home at Mt. Desert Island High School, promptly embraced this project with great enthusiasm and is committed to its success.

Rainbow Ball Weekend honors three UU Principles in particular:

Principle 1: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. At RBW, every youth is dignified and treated as beautiful and worthy. A climate of inclusion, acceptance and love governs the entire event and marks it as a potent life-changing experience for queer-and-allied youth. For most of these rural Maine youth, this is the first time they have ever been in such an affirming environment. They write that this experience not only changes their hopes and aspirations for their lives, it sustains them when they return to their homes and schools, and they live for the next one all year.

Principle 2: Justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Rainbow Ball Weekend offers a seemingly-magical alternative to the climate of hate language, harassment, fear and casual disregard too often experienced by LGBTQ-and-allied youth in their schools and communities. At RBW they meet on the ground of equality, with compassion for each other’s struggles and with a passionate commitment to make the world a more just and loving place for everyone. Kindness abides here. In this space youth feel able to take healthy risks they may never have dared take before, perhaps claiming an authentic identity for the very first time and learning that it can be affirmed. Others may take baby steps toward that goal while learning and observing in safety. They also participate in trainings that equip them for social justice activism to help achieve a more equitable school and society. Youth teach each other, exert leadership for the values of courage and compassion, encourage each other and experience healthy pride in themselves.

Principle 6: The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all. Rainbow Ball Weekend is a powerful experience of what peace, liberty and justice might actually feel like to young people who live under a heavy burden of oppression and harassment in their families, communities and/or schools. This taste of liberation and joy affects them profoundly. They do not want to leave, and they can’t wait to return. They communicate with one another statewide via social media all year and offer each other a lifeline to the memory of this community and the dreams it makes possible for their future communities, country and world.

Full Description of Project

Rainbow Ball Weekend (RBW) is an annual April weekend of educational and social activities for up to 250 mostly-rural Maine lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning (LGBTQ) and allied high school students. Many of these youth are members of their schools’ Gay-Straight-Transgender Alliances (GSTAs), clubs working to reduce anti-LGBT hate language and harassment in their schools.

This three-day event directly addresses the isolation, underdeveloped aspirations, academic challenges, health risks (including suicide risk) and insufficient hope faced by many rural Maine LGBTQ youth. It serves primarily youth from Hancock, Washington, Aroostook, Penobscot, Knox, Waldo and Lincoln Counties.

Rainbow Ball Weekend builds community within a rural school network, opens a wider world of more acceptance and opportunity, and encourages educational aspirations. It is a direct youth suicide prevention intervention, giving participants a year-long sense of community, hope, joy, and motivation to complete high school.

For the last ten years, Rainbow Ball Weekend has been a reliable fixture on the psychological landscape of Maine’s rural LGBTQ-and-allied youth. However, because longtime host University of Maine at Machias is reorganizing in relation to our state’s flagship public university, they can no longer host, so last April they announced the end of RBW. At students’ pleading, a devoted group of Maine active and retired public educators, including UUs, is working to save Rainbow Ball Weekend, sponsored by the UU Church of Ellsworth.
We have found a new home for RBW at Mt. Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor. Now the challenge is raising the money, especially since long distances make rural gatherings costly.

For the 2018 Rainbow Ball Weekend to become a reality, just transporting c. 250 youth to and from Mt. Desert Island in school buses/vans and feeding that many hungry adolescents for three days costs about $13,000. Students and adults will sleep on classroom floors and eat in the school cafeteria.

Thank you for your generous gift to help Rainbow Ball Weekend continue to strengthen rural LGBTQ-and allied youth in this challenging political era. Many of these students live in impoverished areas of Maine and a growing number of them experience food insecurity at home.

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STUDENT: “Rainbow Ball Weekend 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 to stay alive.”

STUDENT: “The Rainbow Ball is my sanctuary, I feel so at peace and at home here with everyone.”

STUDENT: “It was the first trip away from home I went on and everyone was so supportive. It’s a safe place.”

STUDENT: “It’s the best time of my life. It honestly saves lives. And not everyone knows that.”

EDUCATOR: “This is an oasis of supportive and happy people and such fun. It gives young people a vision of hope for their future. As a teacher, I have seen kids who were failing everything come back to school determined to pass enough classes to actually graduate, and then do it, with hope and plans for an entire happy life. This experience is transformative.”

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WHAT HAPPENS ON RAINBOW BALL WEEKEND?

a chance to breathe, learn, play and make friends from many other high schools in an affirming, accepting environment
a safe, joyful, LGBTQ-friendly prom
a well-known keynote speaker who is a leader in the work for full equality for LGBTQ people
support groups for various sexual orientations and gender identities
educational workshops and activities (some youth-led) on topics like healthy relationships, poetry-writing, Make-Up 101, inclusive sexual health and consent, world dance aerobics, legislative advocacy, how to have a great Gay-Straight-Trans Alliance (GSTA) in school, GSTA peer coaching and idea exchange, author readings, trans issues in the workplace, confidential HIV testing, community circles, LGBT history, community organizing, queer political power through direct action, LGBT rights in school and the workplace, book arts, spirituality and affirming faith communities, Intimate Partner Violence 101, LGBT aging (panel with elders), musical improvisation, martial arts, planning successful educational and fundraising events, and a sing-along.
Queer Career/College Expo — all about the future, with queer adults who work in many fields, and returning RBW alumni sharing about campus life and how to succeed in postsecondary education
a variety of creative activities, arts/crafts, and Gaymes
a fabulous talent showcase
support and networking for GSTA faculty advisors
new friendships, the knowledge that queer youth are not alone, an enhanced vision of personal possibilities for the future, skills for navigating school and community environments back home, deepened resilience, and empowerment for social justice activism to make our society more fair and loving for all
Thank you for supporting this work to build strength and resilience in Maine’s rural LGBTQ-and-allied youth!