- Unitarian Universalism Connection
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.
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.”
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!
RBW chaperones & counselors