GSAFE is raising money to build strong student leaders while creating Wisconsin K-12 schools that are safe and affirming for LGBTQ+ youth with its 2nd Annual Wrap Yourself in a Rainbow Quilt and Fiber Art Auction. The idea behind the quilt auction began in 2020 at the height of the COVID19 pandemic when the GSAFE staff was brainstorming fundraising ideas. Little did they know, they would begin a tradition that would bring people together and educate the community about the LGBTQ+ community.
“The quilt auction was created last year as kind of a pandemic pivot,” said Brian Juchems, GSAFE Co-Executive Director. “So right when the pandemic hit, we had both our annual scholarship event, which is one of our big fundraisers, as well as a statewide conference for educators and students lined up, which was also a fundraiser. And they both got canceled. We were sitting around the office trying to figure out what we needed to find to replace that. And [GSAFE Co-Executive Director] Ali [Muldrow] said she went to a quilt auction, and it was amazing, and that we should do something like that.
“She suggested it kind of offhandedly. And I put it in my memory bank,” Juchems added. “Then maybe a month or so later, I’m like, ‘Wait a second. I don’t know how to do a quilt auction. But let’s do it. Let’s try it.'”
In the first year of the auction, GSAFE received 150 donations, including quilts and masks. And they raised over $20,000, which went towards the daily operating and managing of the organization. The first annual quilt auction was a massive success and the GSAFE staff were elated to receive a plethora of handmade crafts.
“A quilt auction is like a bunch of people get together in a room and there’s quilts hanging from walls,” said Juchems. “The way that we have it set up is like people donate quilts of all different sizes. From small wall-hanging, like 8×10, to these massive king-sized quilts that they’ve handmade. Everything’s been handmade. Also, it’s a fiber art auction, so people also donate like knitted crocheted hats and masks. Last year we got a lot of masks.”
The quilt auction provided the staff and community members, locally and nationally, a chance to engage with each other during a time of isolation and uncertainty.
“People are learning more about GSAFE,” said Rae Sowards, GSAFE Communications and Development Manager. “It’s kind of opening up the whole market to people that quilt. Also, just the community of it. One person did this quilt with a woman in Florida. They mailed the quilt back and forth to work on it. I thought that was really interesting. It kind of brings people together and they make their own little communities within a larger community.”
GSAFE’s mission is to increase the capacity of LGBTQ+ students, educators, and families to create schools in Wisconsin where all youth can thrive by developing the leadership of LGBTQ+ students; supporting gay-straight alliances; training educational staff; advancing educational justice; advocating for public policy; and deepening racial, gender, trans, and social justice. This auction has helped raise awareness about the work GSAFE does while educating people about the LGBTQ+ community.
“We invite people who donate to tell us about the process of their items, or the motivation behind their items,” said Juchems. “It’s interesting as I’m getting to know the quilting community, I hear people say, ‘I’m not always sure if I can talk about LGBT topics in guilds that I belong to or like groups Facebook groups.’ I think for them, they’re excited. It’s exciting to hear them talk about doing this because their kid is gay or trans and they want a way to show support.
“There’s been a few items last year, as well as this year, that we’ve received quilts in honor of people who have died. We always have a couple of stories about somebody who has donated in the honor of a young person who didn’t have support like GSAFE … People who have died by suicide several decades ago, or recently,” Juchems says. “I like the idea of coming together to honor people by making these handcrafted items that take a lot of time. Even with the smallest items, it takes time to do those, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of love in them.”
The 2nd Annual Wrap Yourself in a Rainbow Quilt and Fiber art Auction ends Monday, Dec. 6, 9 p.m. The staff of GSAFE wants to send a special thank you to Gael and the entire Blue Bar Quilts team for all their support. To browse through the quilts and make bids, click here.