The pandemic has upended so many lives. Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth, who often feel isolated and unsupported in the widespread rural geography of Maine, are particularly vulnerable right now. OUT Maine, based in the midcoast, works statewide to build a welcoming and affirming Maine for our rural LGBTQ+ youth, according to a news release from OUT Maine based in Rockland.

Committed to building youth connection and capacity in its ongoing work, OUT Maine started an Emerging Leaders group of young adults last fall. These young adults volunteered to be junior counselors for the Rainbow Ball Weekend, which had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. Feeling the increased isolation caused by the pandemic themselves, these young leaders decided to take action. As a team, they developed a creative approach to reducing isolation and providing support for LGBTQ+ youth in rural Maine through virtual role-playing games.

The Emerging Leaders group members coordinated and facilitated three weekly RPG online groups for LGBTQ+ youth, who joined from all around Maine. The group used the well-known Dungeons and Dragons game, but also a couple of newer games, such as Dream Askew which became a favorite RPG. Dream Askew, created by Avery Alder, gives participants the opportunity to explore different aspects of their identity in a queer virtual community — building both connection to each other and to themselves as individuals.

The RPG project was an exciting one that built the skills and confidence of the Emerging Leaders themselves, while providing critical support and connection to many isolated LGBTQ+ youth spread across Maine. The games created protective relationships that helped to fight the pandemic’s many negative impacts, including rising anxiety and depression.

The young adults benefited as well. Writing and time-management skills were tested as they worked to wrap up storylines developed by the youth facilitators before the campaign deadlines. Role-playing also gave them a place “outside of societal standards” where they could be themselves or, through their characters, express emotions and personalities that were very different from their own.

Because of COVID-19, virtual RPG programming has enhanced OUT Maine’s ability to reach youth across the state in an engaging, supportive and educational community. Youth who are challenged by travel and unsupportive parents are now able to find connection and community, regardless of their physical location. Because of the vision of the Emerging Leaders, OUT Maine is now armed with a new set of tools to build the LGBTQ+ youth supportive community virtually.

OUT Maine works toward a welcoming and affirming Maine for all rural young people of diverse sexual orientations, gender expressions and gender identities. In partnership with their allies and families, OUT Maine supports, educates and empowers these youth in their journey from adolescence to adulthood. For more information, or to support OUT’s critical work on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth, visit outmaine.org.

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