Outright L/A loses funding, but volunteers don't plan to fold

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

"Going to Outright helps you evolve as a person," Mike Knowlton of Auburn said. "Going to Outright became kind of a ritual to me, because I could hang out with people like me."

Maine's last Outright organization is on life support.

Once, there were seven of the support groups for sexuality- and gender identity-based cultures. "Outright used to be all over the state," Mike Knowlton of Auburn said.

Outright L/A is a Lewiston and Auburn-based community group where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth ages 14 to 22 can find a safe environment.

Outright has served the Twin Cities since 1996. 

Maine's other Outright organizations closed due to lack of funding, leaving Outright L/A and a small Ellsworth group on their own.

Outright L/A lost their parent agency on July 12, leaving them without funding as well. "That was a huge blow," said Penny Sargent, who lost her job as Outright's program coordinator the same day. 

"We had to make a tough decision," said Nancy Audet, director of communications for the Family Planning Association of Maine. "We care very much about the program," Audet said, "but we can't operate a program that has no money coming in."

Without a parent agency, "we are orphans," Grayling Cunningham, a volunteer advisor at Outright, said.

It's a tough pill to swallow for the advisors, Sargent and the LGBTQ youth that call Outright home. Even Audet struggled with the decision to cut funding. "I know the need firsthand," said Audet, who volunteered with Outright at one time.

Knowlton was 14 when he attended his first Outright Friday-evening drop-in, a weekly meeting at the First Universalist Church in Auburn. "I was very shy at first, but it became kind of a ritual to me because I could hang out with people like me."

Outright has a group of between 20 to 30 volunteers. They provide one-on-one support, hold workshops on safe sex and anti-bullying, hold an annual youth summit, organize dances called "gender benders" and educate youth and parents alike.

"We do serious education. We don't just chit-chat about it," Cunningham said.

Cunningham was an Outright youth before becoming an advisor.  

"I am really committed to this program," Cunningham said. "I do it because I want to inspire youth. I want to show them that LGBTQ youth can be successful in this community, just like me," the well-known artist and hair stylist said. 

Sargent calls Cunningham "the Superman of Outright volunteers." 

"There are very few programs for LGBTQ," Sargent said. "Youth are coming out younger and younger. I get emails from 12- and 13-year-olds."

"Coming out of the closet" is a figure of speech used when LGBTQ disclose their sexual orientation or sexual identity.

"I had a hard time coming out because I was not sure," Knowlton said. 

"I've dated men. I've dated woman. It's all the same," Knowlton said. "I'm attracted to men and women. Personality trumps physical characteristics. ... When you don't fit the mold, you make your own. I learned that from Outright.

"Outright is all colors of the spectrum. You can be whoever you want there. ... I honestly don't think I would be the same person if it wasn't for Outright," said Knowlton, who had thoughts of self-harm and was often depressed before finding Outright.

"Our program does save lives," Cunningham said. 

Knowlton said the weekly drop-ins became a place of comfort and a venue to express himself. "Drop-ins felt like a family dinner."

Sargent said she holds no ill will towards Family Planning Association of Maine. "Funding for all nonprofits is challenging," she said. 

Despite not getting a paycheck or having an office on Lisbon Street in Lewiston, Sargent said she will still help fill the need. "The world is a better place for our queer youth, but they still need our support," she said. "The work does not go away. I am still totally committed to Outright.

"We want to find a home where Outright is non expendable," Sargent said. "It's all about funding. Our options are to find a parent agency, a fiscal sponsor or to fold."

To fold is not an option for Cunningham. "People belong in this program," Cunningham said. "If we are not doing it, there is no one else doing it." 

"It would be like losing your family all at once," Knowlton said about Lewiston-Auburn without Outright.

"We don't plan on going a way," Sargent said.

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Comments

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

O' Happy Day!

O' Happy Day!

Robert McQueeney's picture

There was recently a story of

There was recently a story of Black Mountain closing due to lack of funding, and the community felt it was important enough that they started raising money without tax dollars involved.

I think another fund raiser is being called for here.

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