STEPHENVILLE — The Newfoundland and Labrador Rainbow Cyber Lions Club (RCLC) is an online group that was chartered as an official Lions Club in March of 2021 and has been quickly establishing itself as a safe place for members of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community to get together online amidst the pandemic. Andrew Hibbitts, Membership Chair for RCLC, said the group is focusing on recruting this year.
“We are a small group. We have around 20 members, but we’re actively recruiting and right now we’ve made that our priority for the new year. We’ve reached out to pride chapters all across Newfoundland and Labrador and we’ve reached out to other organizations such as Quadrangle in St. John’s, and everybody has been really receptive to the idea. They’ve all been actively wanting to participate as a partner and help share things with their members, and I’ve already noticed new people signing up to our sessions and I’m hoping that continues to grow.”
The group is sponsored by the Stephenville Lions Club and has two Guiding Lions – Sharon Williston and Brenda Dennis.
Last year the RCLC held meetings which were more focused on administration because they were getting set up, but they are looking forward to shifting their focus to more fun activities this year. Many of the events will be inspired by what Bay St. George Pride Week offered, something many members are involved in.
“Since the pandemic started, we’ve had to pivot to online offerings during Pride Week and we even did things outside of Pride Week, so we had to come up with some pretty creative ideas to offer things online,” said Hibbitts. “I picture things like watch parties, sending compassion kits, general networking, craft events and paint nights, education sessions, virtual drag shows – things people can get involved with and enjoy.”
Hibbitts said the progress that has been made with the LGBTQ2SIA+ community over the years wasn’t hindered by the pandemic, and that they just had to adapt their strategies and shift focus.
“I don’t think the momentum died. We continued very much online and offered things, even year-round during the first year of the pandemic, so we didn’t lose momentum. We just had to pivot and offer something different. The energy is still there and hopefully one day soon we will be back to in-person events. COVID was an opportunity for all of us to push ourselves to get creative and figure out new ways to do things. There are ideas I have now that I never had two or three years ago because we are thinking outside of the box in how we can pull things off.”
Kathryn Cashin, President of RCLC, said she was excited to hear the Lions Club was interested in creating this group and being more inclusive, and wants people to understand that the group, even though they typically have an older following, genuinely care for the community.
“I’ve had people wary of joining, wondering if it was a religious group, just because there can be preexisting ideas and stigmas of what the Lions Club is. They’re trying to combat those stigmas by bringing this group into it to be more inclusive and open. Knowing that these folks really are about community and service and regardless of who you are, where you’re from, what your background is, they just want to help. If there is a need in the community, they want to try and fill it the best way they can, and so offering this group I think is their way of trying to fill a gap they see in their end of offering service, and an overall need in the community locally and everywhere.”
Cashin looks forward to growing the group by forging new partnerships and connections that wouldn’t have been able to happen organically in the past.
“Once we get more people involved and we actually get off the ground, offering more events and things, I think it’s really going to be great for people to have a safe space, and to be a part of it, especially in the beginning. It is something cool we will always be able to say we had a hand in.”
Cashin said it can be very isolating to fight big battles all by yourself, with smaller pride groups not having as much access, but by being online the RCLC is able to bridge that gap.
“It really opens up our reach for folks that might live more rurally or might not even be out yet or comfortable participating in Pride events in person. Even with physical accessibility to things, it definitely broadens our area of reach, being virtual.”
Cashin believes people in the community are a lot more open and accepting than they are sometimes given credit for, but there is always more that can be achieved.
“The education piece and seeing what parts of the movement still need to be focused on is so important. Our work will never be done but every step we take in that direction is progress and hopefully the people coming behind us won’t have to fight so hard for things.”
Hibbitts said the RCLC meets online approximately twice a month and the overall feeling amongst the group is that people are very happy to be involved.
“We’ve had people participate from other Lions Clubs across Canada and even in the United States. They will pop in our Zoom session, pop out and go to another one, and come back later. It’s almost like an online social. There is a sense of community just from being a Lion.”
Those interested in joining or learning more about the Rainbow Cyber Lions Club can contact them via email at: email@example.com or visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rainbowcyberlionsclub/.