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A Writer’s Community for Queer Kids

How Rainbow Room is helping LGBTQ youth grow in their craft and support each other.

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Writing, editing, and cultivating one’s artistic expression mirrors the process of a young person figuring out who they are.

Youth instructor for Lighthouse Writers Workshop Jesaka Long understood that young people, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ, could use more spaces and community support to grow in both craft and character.

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Pandemic-related isolation wasn’t making things any easier. In January 2021, Long launched Rainbow Room, a virtual chat-based program where queer adolescents share their writing, in response to the perceived need, and to the natural growth of the community at Lighthouse.

“We started seeing more and more trans kids at Lighthouse or more kids who were comfortable being out,” says Long. “I guess word traveled that Lighthouse is seen as a very safe place.”

Long, who has an MFA degree in writing for young readers and has six years’ experience leading Lighthouse’s Youth Authors Collective, feels she’s an example of what representation in the literature scene can do. She’s transparent about her queerness and her teaching typically centers the works of queer writers.

China Reign Omenai, 16, from Denver, knows a bit about who they are and shows it through the work of their words. “Something that I’ve always known is that my work makes others uncomfortable,” they say. “That’s the goal. I never approach writing with some idea of wanting to be the next Shakespeare, I’m China Reign.”

Omenai’s writing talents parallel her mother’s; Confidence Omenai is a poet and playwright. Both of them receive Lighthouse emails, and that’s how China saw the Rainbow Room ad. An opportunity to collaborate with other kids and get detailed feedback piqued China’s interest.

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What To Expect

Long begins Rainbow Room sessions with some questions to help students get to know each other. She then provides weekly writing prompts to warm up and sharpen skills like building a character’s point of view. Lessons from these free writing exercises help kids develop their own pieces.

Novels, short stories, and poetry from Rainbow Room writers often include themes about gender and rebelling against norms; others center around post-apocalyptic worlds and friendship.

“I could talk about my novel for one thousand years,” says Lily Nobel, 16, from Boulder, who participated in the second cohort. Their novel mixes the supernatural with a coming of age story: a group of friends tour through Europe; when their deceased friend shows up as a ghost, they must deal with their grief.

Nobel welcomed Long’s line-by-line feedback, plus the community built by sharing comments on other writers’ work. “I see myself in [the other students],” says Nobel, “both being a very young person who is starting to try out some labels within the LGBTQ community, but more than anything as a young writer who is trying to figure out their style, what they like to write about, and how they could best go about that.”

Molly Patton, 14, from New Jersey, joined after her mother connected with Long over Instagram. In-depth classes that catered to her age group were hard to come by. Patton is inspired by writing that empowers young people like her; she loves Hannah Abigail Clarke’s The Scapegracers, which features a cast of queer girls who smash the patriarchy and fight the wrongs in their community, according to Patton. “Most of the novels geared toward queers are in the romantic genre,” says Patton. “I don’t see enough stories where the characters are casually lesbian or bisexual, like in The Scapegracers.”

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In the group, Patton’s been developing a story in her favorite genres, science fiction and fantasy; it’s about an island cut off from a COVID-19-like virus that’s ravaging the rest of the world.

Rainbow Room begins a free four-week session in August. “If for some reason you feel like you don’t have a space, maybe this would help,” says Long.

Register at lighthousewriters.org/workshop/rainbow-room-teens.

An excerpt from “Untitled pantoum”

By China Reign Omenai, Rainbow Room writer

I want a vintage record player to play you on repeat

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A pantomime prophecy I can’t quite ignore

Bones don’t break very easily

There is always someone next in line

A pantomime prophecy I can’t quite ignore

Thorns rest along your stem, yet you look so soft

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There is always someone next in line

Pride doesn’t mean arrogance

Parenting

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