Rainbow Formal WV

What is the injustice we are solving?
In southern West Virginia, there is a prominent population of LGBTQ+ youth that are growing up without community. According to the Human Rights Campaign, forty-two percent of queer youth live in areas that aren’t accepting of them because of their gender or sexuality. These teens are two times more likely to be physically assaulted than others their age. As many as 92% of LGBTQ+ teens hear negative messages about their identities in their daily lives. These problems cannot be swept under the rug any longer, and the teenage activists of Rainbow Formal WV believe they can help fix them.

To address these concerns, a group of high school students have united to organize a Rainbow Formal for LGBTQ+ teenagers. We feel that by giving kids who may not feel they have a place to be themselves an opportunity to live without fear and socialize with others like them, they will in turn foster that community of acceptance within their own high schools.
Our Compassionate Solution
To solve this injustice of
discrimination and bullying of LGBTQ+ students
we will address
the systemic way in which LGBTQ+ youth are ostracized from normal high school activities like prom
by
planning a formal dance in which LGBTQ+ high school students can come together and foster a community of acceptance without the influence of bullies
Our Plan
Our Project Goals
Have a successful Rainbow Formal WV with at least 200 students in attendance
Leave at least $1,000 for Rainbow Formal WV 2019 by August 2018
We will increase my / our compassion by...
making this dance accessible to as many LGBTQ+ students as possible and opening the doors to allies of the community. This will allow for many people to attend even if they aren't open about their gender or sexuality with their families.
How will you show courage?
We will show courage by advertising this event on our social media accounts where others can see. We will also sell tickets in our schools and make ourselves known for being proudly LGBTQ+ in a region where it is not accepted.
How will you collaborate with others?
We will collaborate with others by making social media accounts to get the word out about Rainbow Formal WV. We will also have a group chat for members of the planning committee as well as a shared Google Drive folder for all important documents and meeting notes. Finally, we will have weekly meetings discussing the ins and outs of the Formal and our progress.
How will you know you are moving in the right direction?
We will know we are moving in the right direction by setting goals with deadlines. If these goals are reached ahead of schedule, like raising $1,000 in two weeks instead of one month, then we will know we are moving in the right direction. However, if the opposite is true and we don't raise $1,000 in one month, then we will know to reevaluate our goals.
Create a list of key steps you will take
Raise funds
Recruit chaperones
Book a venue
Hire a DJ
Hire a caterer
Buy decorations
The impact we've made
How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?
The planning committee for Rainbow Formal WV is made up of students from eight high schools across West Virginia, so when we asked each student to advertise in his/her area, we knew the responses would be varied. In some schools, it is an offense to say something unkind about the event, but in others, it is the norm. That perception of the LGBTQ+ community is reflective of the atmosphere across the nation: loved by some, but not by all. However, the support from the community that we had represented in chaperones and information tables showed that there is a group fighting back against the injustice that we have faced, and we know that the good will prevail.
How many people were impacted by your project?
200
Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project
We had roughly 100 student attendees, 30 adult chaperones, and 15 people at our information tables; these people, we impacted directly. However, by advertising the event and showing LGBTQ+ teens that they aren't some type of abomination, we impacted countless more.
How did your community change as a result of your project?
In southern West Virginia, the atmosphere has never been very accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, but over the past few months of advertising the event, we have seen change taking place before our eyes. The rhetoric in the hallways at school shifted from weary to warm. The faces of students as they sign up for tickets showed that the effort we made was worth it. As so many adult chaperones came together to experience the welcoming event that we created, we saw what it meant to them. Many were also members of the LGBTQ+ community and had never been able to be open in their youth. By seeing the happiness and vigor of a new generation, we believe we have inspired them and given them hope for a future where kids don't need to come out.
How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?
The team itself is made up of people who are directly affected by the injustice of homophobia. However, to learn more about it, we discussed different situations of bullying at a round-table meeting early on in our planning process.
What did your team learn?
My team learned how to plan a large-scale event in a short period of time. Over the past six months, we became top-tier party planners. We developed great interpersonal skills and began to understand outreach on a new level. We also learned that when faced with positivity, love, and kindness homophobia flounders.
What challenges did your team overcome?
The team was faced with many challenges when planning the event. The most difficult one was with the venue. We booked a room at a local university, but after the initial booking, all communication with the individuals in charge ceased. No matter how often we called, emailed, and left messages, we didn't receive a response. Then, once we finally worked everything out, the venue itself was still unsatisfactory. One of the bathrooms did not have any toilet paper and there were no maintenance staff available to help us. However, our wonderful chaperones took care of the malfunctions, and we had a successful event in the end.
How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?
The planning committee itself is made up of 8 seniors in high school and 4 juniors. As we continue to have meetings over the summer, we hope to continue recruiting younger members into the group to keep the event going. We also involved adult chaperones in the project by asking them to help in keeping the event safe and efficient.
What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?
To anyone starting a peacemaking project, my advice is to reach out to those who are already in positions of power and see if they will support your efforts going forward. Having the support of organizations whose values align with yours is crucial to the success and longevity of a project like Rainbow Formal WV.
Kelsey T.

June 05, 2018

Hi Megan!
Congratulations on finishing your peacemaking project! I’m on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share about your work.

Below you will find some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future:

I loved reading your reflection and hearing about what sounds like a fabulous success and a wonderful, meaningful night. It sounds like you made a deep impact on your local community and on the attendees of the prom. I see courage, compassion, and collaboration as deeply embedded into your work -- and I appreciate your focus on learning and that you have already started to think about sustainability and how to keep this going in the future. You've done a great job in your reflection and update articulating why this is an important event and that will serve you will -- you are a great storyteller. As you think about how to source funds in the future, I'd encourage you to reflect on how you can continue to capture stories of impact and share the perspectives of attendees on what the event meant to them.

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us up to date as you continue your work to create change!
Adrian B.

March 09, 2018

Hi Megan!

Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below:

Strengths:

I love this project! You're addressing a very real injustice in a way that shows deep courage, compassion, and collaboration. I love this idea, and it's revolutionary to have an LGBTQ+ themed prom in a state that hasn't had it before.

I am especially impressed by your courage in doing this work. I love that you're creating this space for youth across the state, and I know it will have a huge impact. Are there ways you're making sure that you stay safe while this is happening? One really thoughtful way to be inclusive was how you made sure to be clear it's also open to allies, so no one will have to come out in order to go to formal, or feel at risk if they aren't open to their families about who they are. This is such an important part of inclusion.

I also love that you're going to be able to have flowers and appetizers as a result of our grant! I love how fabulous and beautiful this formal is going to be. :) This is going to be a joyous and life-saving event. Thank you for this work.

Opportunities to make your project even more incredible:

You have thought of nearly every detail, and your work is very strong right now! I have a few thoughts for you to consider that could make your project even more incredible. One is--I'm curious about how you talked about how students going to prom may be motivated to then help change bullying culture in their own schools. I'd love to think more with you about tangible ways to support prom attendees who are motivated to do this, so that they have what they need to make that happen (and community for it) when they return.

I already see that you're working towards making sure your event is as inclusive as possible! Have you had the chance to think yet about other ways to make sure everyone feels safe/welcome? I'm curious about how to ensure accessibility of the event (http://www.rootedinrights.org/how-to-make-your-social-justice-events-accessible-to-the-disability-community-a-checklist/--especially think about music volume and strobe lights at an event like this) and making sure it's as safe/inclusive as possible for students who have intersecting identities (students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, etc.).

One thing that can help with this work is building a broad coalition--how can you build deep connections with students experiencing all forms of oppression? Are there ways you might be able to even find solutions to these injustices from the people who are causing them? Working across lines of difference to make this project happen can be so powerful, if it's safe to do so.

Really excited to hear more! Keep up the phenomenal work. Congratulations and best of luck with your project! :) Adrian
Eric D.

March 07, 2018

Dear Megan (and team),
Hi! My name is Eric and I work at Peace First. I'm so excited about the project you are describing. Creating safe places where people (especially young people) feel seen, loved, and connected is absolutely important. Thank you for taking this on.
I especially like the focus on prom - taking an important high school tradition that can feel shut off to LGBTQ+ students and claiming it as your own is a powerful statement. Simple yet radical.
I also like the invitation to allies and will be curious how people respond and show up. It is an opportunity for others who might otherwise be silent to raise their voice along side you. Maybe there are community businesses or groups who might show their support with dollars or donated supplies. Influential students can lend their support by attending. There is strength and power in numbers.
One of our Peace First Fellows, Brennan Lewis is doing important work for LGBTQ+ youth in isolated communities.
You can read more about their work here: https://www.peacefirst.org/brennan-lewis
Can't wait to see how this goes! Let us know how we can support.
Eric
Fish S.

February 28, 2018

Great to see this project, Megan -- and to learn more about what you've been up to. Love it! You'll be hearing from some other folks soon, too -- let us all know what we can do to help.