ROCKLAND — The Cigna Foundation prioritized support for Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth through its recent grant to OUT Maine. With this underwriting, OUT Maine will provide much needed support and resources to Gay/Straight/Trans Alliances (GSTAs) in schools throughout the state.

GSTAs are school-based clubs that provide a range of support for LGBTQ+ youth, from critical safe spaces to gatherings where youth can collaborate on school climate-changing initiatives, such as education for students and faculty. A 2014 Canadian study demonstrated schools with GSTAs for three or more years have a 50 percent reduction in bullying and harassment for all youth (British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey).

A GSTA sign at a Maine high school. Photo courtesy of OUT Maine.

Many faculty who serve as GSTA advisors are struggling to provide this important student resource as they deal with their own workload issues during the pandemic. The Cigna grant will enable OUT Maine to provide training and coaching to GSTA advisors as they, in turn, support and empower LGBTQ+ students in their schools.

Key activities under the grant include the development of two GSTA advisor handbooks — one for primary schools and a second for middle/high school advisors; a set of tools and easy-to-implement activities to support and build queer youth leadership to reduce bullying and harassment for all students; a monthly GSTA advisor circle to provide networking and group advisor coaching; and individual consultations to advisors as they work with their LGBTQ+ students in schools across Maine.

“Cigna believes no one should confront bias alone, and we believe everyone should feel safe in their environment,” said Susan Stith, Cigna’s vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, corporate and employee giving, and president of the Cigna Foundation. “We are committed to supporting our LGBTQ+ youth and are very proud of our partnership with OUT Maine to create a path for acceptance and appreciation of all individuals in our communities.”

OUT Maine is grateful The Cigna Foundation sees the challenges facing Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth, and the importance of building these in-school safe spaces.

“We are thrilled with this new partnership, and the potential to change the life experiences of Maine’s LGBTQ+ youth with this Cigna support,” said Jeanne Dooley, OUT Maine executive director.

A Maine middle school bulletin board display created by students in a GSTA. Photo courtesy of OUT Maine.

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