On the afternoon of Feb. 10, a handful of members in the local community gathered in the Rainbow Resource Center (RRC) for a discussion regarding religion and faith and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community. The discussion was part of a series known as the LGBTea Parties, which are hosted by UMaine’s LGBTQ Services.
The LGBTea Party series was organized in fall 2014 by former University of Maine student Kristina Pettegrow, who worked in the RRC as an administrative aid for LGBTQ Services. In the year and a half that the parties have been offered, the discussions continue to touch topics that reach out to diverse audiences in the LGBTQ community. Some of the discussion topics featured in the past include dating apps, the importance of pride, movies and music. The discussions have also ventured into other civil rights areas such as feminism and Black History Month.
“I think they [the LGBTea Parties] are a great event,” Meredith Hassenrik, Graduate Assistant of the RRC said. “I think it is a great way to engage people on campus. I mostly just provide guidance to the discussion, but the fact that they are student-led makes it special.”
This past week’s topic was based on religion and faith in the LGBTQ community. The discussion lasted about an hour and brought about conversations such as how religion can affect politics, and how the LGBTQ community can advocate for and strengthen its relationship with places of worship.
“I was really excited to see new faces present,” Casey Rogers, an administrative aide for LGBTQ services, said. “It’s always great to see new faces, and familiar faces too. I like a mixture, because then you get more of an interesting conversation. I was a little nervous about this one because I’m not personally religious, so I didn’t know how much I could keep the conversation going. But I was happily surprised when I thought it was wrapping up and people continued it [the discussion] on their own. That was awesome to see.”
Rogers has been facilitating LGBTea Parties since last semester, when she also worked with Administrative Aide Amy Schmitt. The two continued the series in the fall, after Pettegrow graduated from UMaine last May, while Administrative Aide Olivia Castay joined this semester.
“I was happy with it,” Rebecca King, vice-president of Wilde-Stein, said. “Usually religion is a touchy topic, but people opened up and that brought a really good discussion.”
In addition to the continuation of the LGBTea Parties, LGBTQ Services has also been promoting and organizing their Safe-Zone trainings. The Safe-Zone training is a program open to all students, staff and faculty members at UMaine, and is a way to learn more about the LGBTQ community and becoming an ally.
“I think it [the safe-zone training] is great,” King said. “I would highly recommend them. They are very educational. It is usually a good way to get up to date with things in general. The community is always changing.”
King has completed the training twice.
“For me, I’ve already been a big part of the community so a lot of it was stuff I already know, but there were one or two terms that had been newly created, very modern elements that I kind of didn’t know a lot about,” Castay said.
Rogers summarized an overview of the training and mentioned how students can just come by the RRC, or even organize a Safe-Zone training for their clubs and organizations. Trainees should expect the training to last roughly under two hours and will discuss sexual orientation and identity, different terms used in the LGBTQ community, and how to be a good ally.
“We like to keep it a fun training, so we have a few different games that we like that are put through out the training,” Rogers said. “It is fun when people are engaged. The shorter ones are usually when people don’t want to talk much at all. You get what you put out of it.”
“It has a lot of really good information, so that if you’re not accustomed to the community, it’s well explained and it’s all laid out for you page by page,” Castay said. “It will be very helpful for someone that doesn’t know anything about the community.”
To become involved in the resources that LGBTQ Services has to offer, the RRC, Room 224 in the Memorial Union, is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.