OUT Maine’s working to create a world where LGBTQ+ youth can thrive. But the world’s a scary place right now, especially for Maine’s queer kids.
For many young people we work with, survival is a daily struggle and an achievement. The mental health crisis, exacerbated by Covid, disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ children and teens.They may not have supportive adults in their lives to share their identity with, and fewer still have a queer adult role model. In a rural state like Maine, queer kids are isolated and frequently targeted for being LGBTQ+.
For LGBTQ+ kids, bullying isn’t just perpetrated by peers. It’s also perpetrated by adults.
The teacher or family member who intentionally and repeatedly deadnames a child or teen. Ugly comments on social media, even when not directed to an individual child, are hurtful to the queer teen who reads them. Legislators, school board members, or others in power attempt to devalue queer lives by restricting their rights. Our kids see and hear this. They feel it.
The message that’s being broadcast loud and clear to LGBTQ+ youth is that some adults with power think they’re a problem.
Empowerment of LGBTQ+ youth is one of the most important ways OUT Maine changes that narrative.
Remember when you were a teen and everything was annoying?
You wanted freedom so badly, but there were sooooo many stupid things like curfews and rules. You had plenty of ideas to make the world a better place, but mostly you wrote angsty poetry in your journal and complained about how everything just completely, totally sucked.
During their teenage years, young people start seeing the world in a new way. They start finding fault with just about everything — usually starting with their family members and close adults — and there’s often a lot of arguing. (It can be annoying for the adults!)
Developmentally, teens are making an important shift towards autonomy as they start to individuate from their families and the communities they’ve been raised in. Trouble is, their prefrontal cortexes are still under construction, so their brains are not yet equipped for the nuances of higher-level reasoning.
For queer kids who are navigating their identities, there’s a lot that’s frustrating and infuriating about the world around them.
And many reasons why *just* surviving feels like an achievement.
We help youth make their voices heard. And they have a lot to say.
At OUT Maine, we’re mentoring the next generation of changemakers by helping them to focus their passions into action.
Here are a few of the things teens get fired up about — when things are unfair or inequitable, gender-neutral bathroom access, open campus and late arrival, and access to free menstrual products and condoms, and more therapy dogs (everywhere, all the time, all the dogs!).
Getting fired up — OK, complaining about things that suck — isn’t the same as making an impactful change. But it can be a start.
Enter “Turn Your Anger Into Advocacy”, an OUT Maine program that reached over 50 Maine students this fall.
Co-facilitated by OUT’s program director, Katie Lutts, training coordinator, August Sender, and youth engagement coordinator, Maggie Hirshland, this program is a shining example of how OUT supports queer, youth leadership.
It starts with listening to and validating their feelings — making space for LGBTQ+ youth to be angry and frustrated, taking their concerns seriously, and letting them know it’s OK to feel that way.
Once all the feelings are out on the table, the next step is reminding participants that they’re not powerless, even though it might feel that way, and that there’s always a pathway to change.
Then we show them how to use their voices.
But it’s not all talk — it’s understanding systems so they can make positive change.
The thing is, teens have no idea how things actually get done.
Policies, committees, laws, structures, and pathways to decision-making are invisible to them, so the first step is helping them to understand the processes and systems, and the resources they’ll need to access.
Next up is figuring out who the decision-makers are.
How will those folks need to be convinced? Is there specific language that would be persuasive? What might their concerns be? How could the changemakers allay those concerns? What evidence would support their position? Is there a cost associated with the change, and if so, how will that cost be met?
Fleshing out all these details is the bedrock of an impactful advocacy campaign, and our youth participants get pretty pumped up during this phase as they see the pieces come together.
Brainstorming and strategizing with youth participants builds their leadership capacity — and it’s a great way to support prefrontal cortex development as they examine their issue from all sides, not just their side.
Not only are they planning actionable steps towards making change in their community, these young people are practicing empathy, compassion, collaboration, listening, and adaptability — which are exactly the qualities we need in leaders.
When we offer programs that empower Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth, it fuels our passion and commitment to serve them. And these young people are gettin’ things done!
“It’s that easy?!”
It’s an ah-ha moment.
Participants in the “Turn Your Anger into Advocacy” sessions are almost giddy when they realize that making change is not only possible, it doesn’t always have to be hard.
Once they understand how the systems work and who to talk to, and have learned effective advocacy strategies, we just get out of the way and watch them spread their wings.
OUT Maine is the only nonprofit of our kind. No other Maine organization does the work we do to support queer youth throughout this crucial period in their development. And there are no other organizations nationwide who do the kind of work we do.
Our unique, community-based, targeted programming and training empowers and uplifts queer youth in Maine’s isolated and under-resourced regions.
Help us continue the important work of supporting Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth as they lead us forward — click here to donate to OUT Maine’s annual appeal.