On Thursday, Nov. 16, the UMaine LGBTQ Services and Wilde Stein: Queer Straight Alliance hosted their annual Gay Thanksgiving Potluck in the North Pod of the Memorial Union. The event was held to build and strengthen community ties while providing a space for students who might not feel comfortable at home to celebrate the holidays.
The North Pod was lined with tables covered with a plethora of food, and student volunteers helped serve the feast. Ten tables, as well as booths and side tables, were packed with students. Opening remarks were made by Dean Robert Dana, Mark Dube, a graduate assistant at the Rainbow Resource Center (RRC) and Jennifer Iwerks, the Staff Associate for Diversity and Inclusion.
“For many LGBT students, holidays can be very difficult times,” Dube said. “Some go back inside the closet. Some can’t go home. That is why we host events like this. It provides LGBT students a place to have a safe and supportive holiday.”
According to the True Colors Fund, a nonprofit organization working to end homelessness among LGBT youth, half of all teens get a negative reaction from their parents when they come out. More than 25 percent are kicked out of their homes.
True Colors Fund states, “In America, up to 1.6 million youth experience homelessness each year. The statistics for LGBT homeless youth are even more shocking, as this group represents up to 40 percent of all young people experiencing homelessness.”
While these statistics are alarming, they don’t begin to tackle the number of teens who don’t feel comfortable or welcome at home. Students Alice Gluchanicz, Naedia Clarke and Liam Griffin sat together at a table decorated in festive tablecloths and small arrangements of fall foliage. They hoped for cornbread and pumpkin pie while discussing past Gay Thanksgivings.
“Even if you don’t know the LGBT office exists, or where it is, seeing events like this helps people know and feel the community’s presents on campus,” Clarke said.
For Gluchanicz, who has attended the event all four years of her collegiate career, it was slightly bittersweet. With her upcoming graduation this would be her last Gay Thanksgiving.
“Freshman year I had a friend who was connected to the community, and she told my roommate and I to come and we didn’t really know what to expect,” Gluchanicz said. “But I went, and it’s been a fun tradition every year.”
Not all students who attend Gay Thanksgiving identify as part of the community. However, it was clear that everyone was welcome to contribute to the celebration and enjoy the potluck.
“Last week we had Multicultural Thanksgiving, and I’ve been thinking about why events like this are important,” Dean Dana said during the opening remarks. “I know there are lots of things happening in the world that are sad, that make us mad, and upset us. This is a place we can come together, take each other’s hands, take a moment and make the world a better place. Being nice counts. That’s what defines a community.”
There are many ways to get involved in the community, and help make our campus a more inclusive space. The RRC is located in room 224 of the Memorial Union. They welcome any students to stop in and say hello. The RRC offers educational resources for students who want to engage and learn about LGBTQ identities and culture, as well as frequently held events on campus. The RRC is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
In addition to checking out the work of the RRC, students can join The Wilde Stein. They work with LGBTQ Services to promote equality on campus and hold weekly meetings on Tuesdays in the Lown Room of the Memorial Union at 7 p.m.