ROCKLAND, Maine — For young gay people in Thorndike, Freedom, Waldo and Rockland, going to school or walking down the street can be scary.
To provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth a safe place to talk, the group Out! As I Want To Be rents a spot in Lincoln Street Center where the group hosts discussions, movies and dinners.
“For a lot of kids who come, this is their only home. It’s the only family they have,” said Liz Davenport, 19, of Waldo. Davenport is both a youth member and works on Out!’s board of directors.
“We are a family,” said Lindsey Young, 20, also of Waldo.
Adult volunteers for Out! say the nonprofit group acts as a safe space for 14- to 22-year-olds in Knox and Waldo counties.
“There are kids who get their butts kicked constantly just for being gay,” Davenport said.
“One of our transgender members came out to his boyfriend and the boyfriend tried to kill him,” said Lis Clark, the group’s program coordinator. “There is a lot of violence.”
Dora Lievow, the capacity-building coordinator for the nonprofit, is working to try to help LGBT youth in the rural areas of Waldo and Knox counties.
Currently, group members and advisers will pick up and drop off youth members who need rides. Out! volunteers also are considering using video conferencing during meetings for people who live far away.
“We feel like rural youth present particular problems and nowhere is there a model to accommodate them,” Lievow said. “We have a program we know works and we want to be more active in the community.”
The largest group of people the LGBT-group serves, volunteers said, is youth who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender.
“You get a clear message early that questioning your sexual orientation is a big mistake. If you can’t feel out who you are on that basic level, you are shut in,” Lievow said.
“When you have to repress something as basic as that, you don’t develop in other ways,” Clark added.
Davenport said that before she joined, she was depressed and tried to “be invisible” at school to avoid being picked on. Having a support system has helped her achieve more, she said.
“Out! has helped me accomplish a lot of things — even things that have nothing to do with being gay, like getting through school,” Davenport said. “That’s the biggest thing about Out!, knowing there is always someone there for you no matter the situation.”
The nonprofit hosts meetings 5-9 p.m. Wednesdays and 6-9 p.m. Fridays at Lincoln Street Center. All LGBT people and allies are welcome. For information, call 800-530-6997.