Meet Your MeetUps: Jen Roberton & LesbiOut!

by Sebastian Fortino
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From the Editor: In an ongoing series, Proud Queer Portland is covering local MeetUps of interest to the LGBTQ+ community. Please reach out to editor@proudqueer.com if you lead, or are a member of a MeetUp we should cover

 

Portland is a very social city, there’s not a boring day to be had. If you’re new to Portland, or looking to expand your group of friends, you should consider a MeetUp. Oregon native Jen Roberton is the host of LesbiOut! -- with an exclamation point.

“My life is just insanely busy. I honestly don’t know how I have time to do any of this,” she told me at happy hour at Holman’s. “Oh, in addition to work, and LesbiOut! I started a running group at work last year.”   

Roberton's interest in MeetUp groups came about after it was suggested by a therapist.

“I was going through a divorce from a guy. I was seeing this therapist, and she told me a good way to meet other LGBT people was to join a local MeetUp.” Roberton tried PDX Lez Go Have Fun. She was hooked and started making good friends. “I was just the happiest I’d ever been. Living my life authentically!”

Part of that happiness was coming out. But, finding a community in which she fit in through MeetUp really allowed Roberton, who works in technology, to flourish. “I tried fitting in with my ex and his friends. That didn’t work. It felt like I was finally coming home.”

In 2016, she attended a queer comedy show. The event proved a catalyst to get her involved in promoting events, targeting queer women in Portland. She wanted her MeetUp to be a safe space not only for cis-female lesbians, but women who identify as bisexual, genderqueer, and transgender. LesbiOUt! now has 2050 members. Roberton did have help. Kim Eitner and Lezley Levario initially managed PDX Lez Go Have Fun, the group from which Roberton built the current incarnation.  

“One of my missions is to provide space where the community can come together. The other goal is to promote queer artists,” she said. An event for the band Cedro Willie attracted about 50 women. “I just want to get the word out that there are these incredible performers playing. There’s a lack of resources about women’s events in the queer community.”

As a proud native, she was greatly saddened by the fires at the Columbia Gorge. She chose to work with Friends of the Columbia Gorge, which protects the region from over-development. A variety show and benefit held at Local Lounge seemed like the right decision.

“We only raised $250, but I’m glad we were able to help a good cause,” she said. “The owners of Local Lounge have been incredibly supportive in welcoming the lesbian community to events in their space.” Every third Saturday Local Lounge and LesbiOut! has a musician who performs for the first hour, then DJ MoniqueSimone takes over.

MeetUp helped her connect with DJ MoniqueSimone, as they’ve redesigned their platform to include a message and discussion board. She needed a local DJ, and someone already in the group seemed ideal. “Within an hour of posting, DJ MoniqueSimone responded. She’s been an absolute joy to work with.”

At PQMonthly, and now Proud Queer Portland, we believe the LGBTQ+ community are EVERY LETTER, EVERY COLOR, EVERYWHERE. Likewise, Roberton is proud to foster diversity across identities, as well as ages for women in her group.

“Younger queer people can learn a lot from older queer people. But,” she said, “it goes both ways. We have women who are in their 50s or 60s, some who just recently came out. They can learn from younger, out, queer people.”

LesbiOut! hosts a variety of outings, to appeal to their unique audience. They’ve done kickball, trail runs, walks for charities, comedy performances, monthly dances, and a New Year’s Eve party.

Single people in the LGBTQ+ community, talk about dating as often as politics. Last year, during a snow day no less, Roberton brought another 50 women together. She also got to meet a figure who inspired her early coming out.

“I realized I was gay when I was married. I visited LesbianLife.com and discovered writer Kathy Belge,” she said. “I was thrilled to meet her and reached out to do a free bootcamp for lesbian dating. It’s Kathy’s class, but I got the venue, and did all the promotion by posting on Meetup. I was the co-host for the night. So, we did some improv dating practice together.”

Roberton is proud LesbiOut! events bring people together. It’s great if some of her members start dating, but to her that’s not the ultimate goal.

“I want to make sure everyone has a place to go to avoid loneliness, and find a welcoming community, to accept them for who they are,” she told me. This speaks to her experience coming out in her early 30s, after a heterosexual marriage.

One of LesbiOut!’s biggest successes was the Butch/Femme Picnic. The picnic existed before Roberton began managing her MeetUp. Last year the group had 160 people to RSVP for the event.

“We had a lot of fun, especially playing up the butch and femme thing,” she laughed. “The next event for LesbiOut! Is March 9th, which happens to be my birthday. We have Julie Goldman Performs Stand Up with Belinda Carroll!”

The third Saturday of the month dance party with DJ MoniqueSimone will take place at Local Lounge on March 17th. Roberton has yet to figure out a theme, but given her enthusiasm, we’re sure it’ll be exciting, empowering, inclusive, but above all, fun.

Roberton is also working on a dedicated LesBiOUt! website. We’ll be sure to follow up with her when it goes live. 

Sebastian Fortino