This past Labor Day weekend, we chose to close out our summer season at Easton by hosting Q-Topia, a new retreat to welcome a diversity of folks and to explore the vast, beautiful range of gender expressions and sexualities within our LGBTQ community. With intensive workshops, an infusion of energy from our young adult program, and a fresh attention to our food, we curated a space where folks from different experiences could learn about each other, learn from each other, and build community together.
Our Q-topia facilitators, all esteemed leaders in their fields, led conversations and skill building workshops that addressed queer issues. For example, "Living as an And in an Either/Or World," looked at gender identity and expression outside of the male/female binary and "Alphabet Soup" explored the ever-growing LGBTQ acronym. We also went beyond discussions of gender identity and sexuality to include social justice focused workshops and discussions like "Building Anti-Racist Practice for Collective Liberation" and "The New Multi Trillion Dollar UN Agenda and the Fight for LGBTQI Inclusion." We are grateful for the facilitators’ willingness to initiate and contribute to these conversations at Easton Mountain. (See the full list of the workshops and their descriptions by clicking here)
Among these impressive facilitators were some of the young adults from Easton's youth programs, Arts in the Woods (AitW) and the Easton Mountain Leadership Academy (EMLA). Jenn Snachez led the “Alphabet Soup” workshop mentioned above and Emmanuel Ramsey led "Coping with HIV through the Arts.” As participants, the youth brought powerful voices to the room, and also seem to be weaving their own tribe within a tribe.
Another exciting initiative of the weekend was exploring the way Easton relates to food and to mother earth. We restarted our composting program! This will keep our food waste out of landfills and, instead, provide nourishing fertilizer for our garden over time. Also, the retreat included a workshop on harvesting seeds, and participants gathered seeds on a walk across the property. The garden has been super-productive, and we enjoyed tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and apples. Under the leadership of Vanessa Brocato, we prepared meals together, in a facilitated community kitchen welcoming all participants to roll up their sleeves and help. Many commented at the end of the weekend how grateful they were for the opportunity to build community through food prep, and others commented on how delicious, nourishing and full of love the food was during our time together.
The weekend also saw many opportunities for play and celebration. Some feared that the diversity of body types, gender expressions and sexualities might restrict the nudity and erotic spirit present at Easton, but this was hardly the case. Folks gleefully played in the mud pit, slipped on the slippy slide, and painted each other. The community even elected to create a pop-up play space on the final night. And our traditional celebration, the "Out on the Deck" concert, featured fantastic queer artists Arjuna Griest, Feathers, Reverend Yolanda and Freddy and Jay Freeman.
Almost half of the 50 attendees of the retreat were new to Easton and expressed excitement about coming back to volunteer or participate in upcoming retreats. Many people shared in the closing circle that the experience transformed them and that they were leaving a "different person" than they were when they first arrived. This community created over the weekend felt open, supportive, and deeply connected. Easton continues to buzz from the exciting new energy that surfaced in manifesting our very own Queer utopia!