It does get better -- but we need more than social media videos, memes, and platitudes.
We need Rainbow Quest! to the rescue!
In the aftermath of the May 2016 Orlando, Florida LGBT club massacre, Dan Savage's highly visible social media campaign, "It Gets Better" offered much-needed words of hope to bullied and marginalized LGBT individuals of all ages. The project was created in 2010 following the suicide of a 15-year-old Indiana boy, Billy Lucas who took his life after having been relentlessly bullied by classmates at school for his perceived sexual orientation. The campaign uses social media in a positive way, countering the reprehensible use of social media which 'outed' Rutgers University student Tyler Clemente and drove him to his tragic suicide, also in 2010. In the 2016 "Pride Issue' of OUT in New Jersey Magazine, award-winning journalist Mike Rox commented that 'It doesn't get better, and we need to stop pretending it does.' I personally have the utmost respect for Dan Savage and the It Gets Better project which has raised awareness and money for anti-bullying efforts. Mike Rox goes on to say "Dan Savage's rainbow-tinted approach to LGBT discrimination helped ease our pain a few years ago when LGBT suicide was a top story in the news cycle, and while that non-profit marketing gimmick wasn't even true back then, it's practically non-existent now. No matter how much progress we make in terms of legislation for our civil liberties, the conservative right and its radical cohorts continue to establish us as demons. As a result, there are proverbial bounties on all our heads -- and we need to get our heads out of our a**** about it. We are all Orlando -- this could've happened to any one of us -- and if we don't wise/rise up, it will." So yes, while the 'It Gets Better' campaign provides assurances and hope to the LGBT community, we clearly need actionable remedies, to further the efforts which make our community more resilient. Where It Gets Better is a passive, spectator mode, Rainbow Quest! is an immersive, uplifting, and experiential event -- the 'power tool' for ensuring that for those who play it, 'It does get better! -- even after just one game!'
Rainbow Quest! has been in development for several years, and I believe it is the 'power tool' which will turn the 'it gets better' platitude into a reality -- just one game changes the 'playing field' through players having the opportunity to enjoy a guided experience of LGBT culture and history. Rainbow Quest! is a rare opportunity for validating and celebrating the life experiences of LGBTQ individuals. Playing the game offers the important, and often profoundly surprising reassurance that the LGBT community has always been here, and has always made important contributions to humankind in spite of unthinkable obstacles, systematic oppression, and the ever-present fear of physical, emotional, and economic harm.
Rainbow Quest! was developed to meet the need for a truly fun and engaging educational resource for the LGBT community. A great activity for a group of friends after dinner, or a great game to play with your kids, there's not a more fun, more inclusive way to get to know LGBT history, culture, yourselves, and one another.
Another reason Rainbow Quest! was created was to help sustain and invigorate the ever-important social support groups for LGBT individuals in the face of unpredictable attendance and programming challenges. Whether you have 2 or 24 people at your gathering, all can enjoy the raucous fun while creating a more cohesive community.
In four decades of working with community social support groups and GSTAs, I've seen the excitement and promise of fledgling groups as they become established, the pride and hope as membership slowly grows, and then watched as many groups experienced what is often a predictable decline in attendance for some of the following reasons:
- Everybody wants to check out what's going on, but may not be interested enough to come back a second time if they don't feel especially welcome, involved, or needed. I've been amazed at how many groups complain about needing new people to come and participate, only to basically ignore new arrivals without so much as a 'thank you for joining us!'
- Many will come to a group just to see who's there -- and realize they either already know who's who locally, though usually, they've not enjoyed opportunities to actually get to know those people. This happens disproportionately in small communities where many people already know of one another, and it is those small communities which often are the most in need of safe and inviting places for LGBT folks to gather.
- Some will attend the group until they establish a good friend or relationship with another group member, and then having found companionship, both stop coming, producing an abrupt decline in attendance. It is an understandable development as they now seek to spend precious time pursuing life adventures together without the need for a larger group, but it leaves the group with fewer personalities.
Another problem that Rainbow Quest! solves is the need for affordable and easy programming that works. Burnout is common when leaders and organizers feel unappreciated when participation plateaus. Without continued growth, they may begin to put less energy into programming, which can result in the start of a downward spiral leading to the eventual implosion of the group. Sometimes the belief is that new leadership is needed, but those new leaders who are recruited can be left wondering if the effort and trouble are worth it when group attendance doesn't meet their measures of success. For those many wonderful groups where factors make growth unlikely, it is essential to find ways that sustain the life of the group so those who need to attend may continue to have their needs met.
Many groups maintain a mission dedicated to providing informational or entertaining programming. This is wonderful when it works, but is often expensive when paying honoraria or travel fees for expert presenters, paying for the licensing to show videos, or arranging for 'field trips.' Again, attendance may be standing room only for some of these, and for other events of merit, participation just does not materialize for various reasons. With this sense of 'purpose' -- the idea that programming must be 'worthwhile,' informative, and entertaining -- the opportunity for attendees to enjoy the interpersonal connections they seek are overlooked. Passive programming, like film showings, often leads to the feeling that showing up really doesn't matter since individuals are spectators and won't be missed if they stay home. Too often, post-viewing discussions fail to materialize when people leave as soon as the credits begin to roll.
Activities like Rainbow Quest! provide the 'trifecta' of social engagement. Rich with information, the entertainment unfolds as attendees become part of the program, as they SHARE their own experience while they simultaneously VALIDATE the experiences of others.
With the variety of challenges, each group sees that no one player has 'all the answers.' The player who seems the most capable and confident may still struggle to draw a picture, pantomime an idea, or answer a question correctly. Conversely, players who hold low self-esteem may learn they have a gift for drawing, for sharing their experiences, for charades, or for holding knowledge of LGBT history and culture. In a situation where all players are truly experiencing the proverbial 'level playing field,' learning and camaraderie are bound to flourish. The game is full of congratulatory moments, laughter, and newly formed alliances.
Add goofy prizes from your local discount store and you have a recipe for strong and continued group membership!