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    We Are One! Be Part of the LGBTQ+ Community’s Response to the Tragic Fires in Maui

    By Jeff Cotter–

    In early August 2023, several wildfires broke out in the state of Hawaii. The fires were mainly centered on the island of Maui. On August 8, wind-driven fires prompted evacuations, caused widespread damage, left thousands homeless, and killed at least 115 people in the town of Lahaina. Over 1,300 people remain missing. The spread of the wildfires was caused by extreme hot dry conditions, strong winds—exacerbated by Hurricane Dora’s passing to the south—and the proliferation of non-native vegetation. There is evidence that the fires were sparked by aging, live power lines that were blown down in the winds. The Lahaina fire is the deadliest U.S. wildfire in over a century.  The pain and loss experienced by our brothers and sisters in Maui is something we in Northern California especially understand.

    The belief that we are all one human family is fundamental to Rainbow World Fund (RWF). We are unified with our world community in the concern for the people of Hawaii. Like so many people on the mainland and across the world, our staff has many personal connections to the island. Long-time RWF volunteer Keith Sjoholm’s sister Ellen has lived on Maui for over 40 years. Fortunately, his sister was not physically harmed by the fire; but her employer, the Pacific Whale Foundation, suffered the destruction of its office and two large teaching boats. Twenty of her co-workers are homeless.

    While struggling to hold back tears, Keith told me, “Maui is like a second home for me. I have so many magical memories. Being there always reminds me of the true importance of family and friends—the people who always have your back and that you can ‘talk story.’ You know, ‘ohana is a Hawaiian word meaning family; it includes blood-related, adoptive, and your chosen family. It also means that we are as strong as the community we keep.”

    Besides the loss of human lives, animal lives, housing, businesses, and infrastructure, the impact on Hawaiian cultural legacy is devastating. The fire has destroyed hundreds of artifacts, thousands of historical records, and many culturally and spiritually important sites. Many of the victims were elders and leaders in their families and communities.

    On a macro level, Maui’s challenges are enormous. It is easy to look at Lahaina and feel overwhelmed. But on a micro level, progress is already being made—and that is where you find the hope. There has been an outpouring of support from around the world. People are opening up their homes to the survivors. Visitors are changing their plans to avoid getting in the way and to allow all resources to be dedicated to the survivors. At Rainbow World Fund, we have learned that the foundation for change and long-term recovery after a natural disaster is always on the micro level. One to one. Community by community.

    Legacy, one of the teaching vessels lost when flames reached
    Lahaina Harbor on August 8

    Aloha is the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion, and mercy. It is commonly used as a simple greeting, but has a deeper cultural and spiritual significance to native Hawaiians, for whom the term is used to define a force that holds together existence. Please know that your generosity and efforts will not only provide needed aid but also will create and share the hope that is essential to our survival, our healing, and humanity. That is true Aloha spirit.

    Before/After images of Lahaina Harbor

    We invite you to be part of our ‘ohana and make a donation to Rainbow World Fund’s Hawaii Fire Emergency Fund. Right now, the best way for most people to help is to donate funds. We are sending emergency and life-sustaining supplies tothe Maui AIDS Foundation; they are on the frontlines distributing the items and providing support to the community. 100% of your donation will fund lifesaving and improving actions. Designate the “Hawaii Fire Emergency” when you donate at  

    Or do so when sending a check to Rainbow World Fund, 4111 18th Street, San Francisco, CA  94114.

    As always, I am proud that our community is stepping up to help those most in need. Gary Virginia and Krewe de Kinque held a fundraiser for Maui at Midnight Sun last weekend. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are holding a fundraiser on August 31 at Lookout in the Castro. There are many ways that you can help. 

    Jeff Cotter is the Founder and Executive Eirector of Rainbow World Fund:

    Published on August 24, 2023