How to Host a LGBTQIA+ Lunch and Learn

In late November this year, the Ann Arbor LGBTQIA+ Atoms organized something new for our office. We hosted a LGBTQIA+ panel discussion. We put out a call to our audience, our co-workers in Ann Arbor, and asked them, “What do you want to know about us and our community?” I worked as a facilitator and organizer for the event, asking panelists to join the discussion as well as asking for help from folks for behind-the-scenes work.

There’s a lot of variance in lunch and learns in general, especially ones that explore a broad topic with as many charged opinions as there are around minority groups. There is no perfect one-size-fits-all approach for how to lead these sessions, so we’ll focus on approaching it generally.

We’re hoping that by the end of this post, you will feel a little more empowered to participate or even host an LGBTQIA+ Lunch and Learn event like this for your community. Whether your community is your office, your school, your library, your friends and family, or more.

First, let’s talk about the timeline.

The Timeline

This may seem obvious but no, seriously, it’s important to plan. Your timeline will vary based on how technical or interpersonal your topic is. A single-speaker event on a technical issue that has less nuance will be able to be put together in a shorter timeline. For this series, we’re going to move a little slower and more thoughtfully. As our topic was very nuanced and required multiple perspectives, we started discussing this event a month and a half in advance. We discussed how to make it accessible to the office and how to make our panelists comfortable. We also discussed how to take questions and what to do if one of them was hurtful or a microagression. (Not that we expected hurtful questions, but it’s better to be prepared.)

The Buildup

Forming a Base Idea

  • Talk to the group and discuss the shape of the event and our shared goals.
  • Discuss the comfort of participants and be mindful of not over-exerting pressure to participate.
  • Designate a person to oversee the event as a whole (likely the person who wants to run this event).
  • Discuss if you want to provide food. Food can motivate people to attend. It also risks being the only motivator, so consider how many participants you will have and how many of them are interested in your topic.
  • Who is your audience? Will it be members of your immediate office? Will it include other offices or community members outside of the company?

4 Weeks

  • Designate a coordinator to take charge of catering, if you are providing food. Someone who could look at options for restaurants, organize a short menu, collect orders, and organize food distribution on the day of the event.
  • Designate a facilitator to ask questions and be the main speaker for the event.
  • Schedule the event a month from today on a day that most folks will be present.

3 Weeks

  • Call for panelists and additional coordinators. Try to have at least four names, and ask directly in private as you feel is appropriate.  Why ask directly in private? It gives someone the option to say “No” without saying no to the group, and it lets the person know that you directly value their assistance and their input
  • Be respectful of the fact that not everyone will want to help publicly, these people will be good resources for behind-the-scenes work.

2 Weeks

Announce verbally and in writing to your office the following information:

  • What the event is
  • Who is hosting the event
  • When is the event
  • Where is the event
  • How to RSVP (Ask for a name and food allergies if you are providing food)
  • What food will be provided (if applicable)
  • How to submit a question (if applicable)

If you have any groundwork information, this is a good time to distribute it to keep your audience engaged. This could take the form of a brochure, PDF, email, or chat message, depending on how formal you wish to be

1 Week

  • Make reminder announcements with the RSVP link two or three times during the week
  • Keep communication open with your panelists and with your coordinators (More on this later!)
  • Start work on any materials you need to prepare. This could be a slide deck presentation, worksheet, quiz for prizes, or informational pamphlet.
  • Distribute a food order form (if applicable). This can help streamline the ordering process if you are doing individual lunches

The Event

2 Days Before

  • Find a time to meet with your panelists to review the questions submitted and answer their questions. This idea came to us as a request from a panelist, and it greatly helped to start communication as a group and give the panelists a sense of security.
  • Make announcements once a day.
  • Address guest’s concerns as quickly as you can. You will likely have a last-minute RSVP, request for additional information, a cancellation, or a helper who has to step out of the event.

The Day of the Event

Start arranging your meeting space 30 minutes before the start of the event.

Clarify coordinator tasks (if applicable).

Food coordinator

  • Sanitize areas where food will be served
  • Organize the food orders, napkins, and utensils

Zoom coordinator

  • Set up microphone and camera
  • Check connectivity and sound
  • Open the Zoom meeting a few minutes before you start

Organize seating and tables based on what your space allows for. Try to make room for:

  • Your audience (+ 10% if you can)
  • Your panelists
  • Your facilitator

During the Event

  • If you have any materials that the audience does not need to see, print them out so you can screen-share your presentation without hassle. This could be your presentation notes, or questions and discussion points for your panel.
  • If you are seeking audience participation, pause every five to 10 minutes to ask the audience if they have any questions.
  • Drink lots of water and eat something before you step up to administrate. Pausing to sip water is a great way to slow down the conversation and think about a response before you speak


At the end of the event

  • End with thank you’s to the panelists, audience, and coordinators (More on this later!)
  • Help to clean and restore your meeting space to the state it was in before the event
  • Be ready to take notes, it is likely you will receive some immediate feedback

After the Event

Ask for the feedback you want.

  • Check in with your speakers. If possible, ask to schedule ~10 minute interviews with each to get their thoughts on how it went and how it can be improved.
  • Also, check in with someone who attended on Zoom if you want to know how the audio quality was.
  • Check in with your managers to ask them if they felt that it was a valuable addition to the workplace.
  • Check in with your coordinators, and ask if they had everything they needed to do their job in a way they found satisfactory
  • Be prepared to hear from folks who struggled, and listen earnestly to what they have to say.

Say “thank you.”

  • Thank your audience for attending, and for opening their minds to learn something new.
  • Thank your managers for helping with costs and room coordination.
  • Thank your panelists for speaking openly and for their strength.
  • Thank your coordinators for their work in making the event run smoothly.

Phew! That’s a long process. I included a lot of steps here, though not all of them will apply to every situation evenly. To recap, communicate early and communicate often with your audience and the people you have asked for help from.

Who to Invite

Let’s talk about the people involved who make events like this a reality, whether your community is your office, your school, your library, your friends and family, or more.

Pink triangle
A pink triangle has been a symbol for the LGBT community, initially intended as a badge of shame, but later reclaimed as a positive symbol of self-identity. In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, it began as one of the Nazi concentration camp badges, distinguishing those imprisoned because they had been identified by authorities as gay men. Source: Wikipedia

How Many People?

An important first step is taking the temperature of the room. You may have a lot of eager volunteers, you may have hesitant volunteers. Your office may have an established Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee that will help set the tone for how your lunch will be received, or this could be the first inclusive initiative of its kind at your workplace. The political landscape of your geographic area will also set the tone, and it’s an important factor to consider.

All of these factors will affect how many people you need to help you out. If you have a small audience that is reluctant to ask questions, you will need fewer people. If you have a larger audience that feels comfortable addressing your topic, you will need more help. Evaluate your RSVPs as you approach the date of the event to help you assess how to scale your requests for help.

When asking for help, try to keep your asks for help small and well-defined. Many hands make light work! Asking multiple people for help, each in a dedicated area, it gives them ownership over an area and it can create clear boundaries between areas. When someone needs help with a catering question, you can easily direct them to the catering coordinator.

Panelists, Coordinators, and a Facilitator in a Pear Tree

For this event, we used three distinct roles. Panelists were invited to come to the front of the room and participate in the discussion. Behind-the-scenes organizers were interested in helping but not interested in speaking publicly. A facilitator would ask questions of the panel. You can cherry-pick which of these roles you want to adopt for your event, depending on how much coordination you need and if you will have speakers other than your lead speaker.

The Panelists

If you’ve decided to go with a panel discussion or host an event with multiple speakers, you will need, well, panelists and speakers. This is a great option for minority communities like the LGBTQIA+ community. There is a myth that our community is a monolith. That we all agree on every topic, share the same perspective, or that we all look like skinny white cisgender people. For this reason, we wanted to bring in multiple speakers to show the diversity of our community and the differing perspectives that we hold.

At our event, we hit our goal of at least three speakers. We recommend scaling the number of speakers to the number of attendees, about one speaker per five attendees. We had four people step up to speak at the event, displaying an incredible amount of bravery to speak publicly before a crowd about the minority group they belonged to.

Asking for speakers for an event like this can be tricky. Since we had never hosted an event like this with this audience, it made taking the temperature of the room difficult. If someone had a hateful comment or harmful question to ask, intentional or unintentional, our panelists would be on the front line of that conversation. If anyone in our confidential group of LGBTQIA+ folks was not out yet to their coworkers, this would mean outing themselves as a member of our community.

It’s important to try your best as a group to mitigate some of these concerns. Panelists and speakers shouldn’t have to reveal how they identify to participate, and they should be given the option to exit the group with no questions asked. To the opposite end of that, it’s important to keep the door open to last-minute volunteers.

The Coordinators

Behind-the-scenes coordinators are immensely helpful. They can help organize catering, seating arrangements, announcements, distribution of information, and Zoom logistics. As mentioned previously, it’s helpful to have one person to coordinate in each area.

For example, we added an option for Zoom attendance at the last minute, only two days before the event. We asked for help directly from someone identified as a good fit for the work, and a Zoom coordinator was brought on. We asked them to monitor the Zoom chat for audience questions and comments and to help perform microphone and camera checks. This role expanded and contracted as we discussed requests for resources after the event. (An option we discussed was a Zoom recording, more on that later!). Our Zoom coordinator helped to check out recording logistics and expanded the role to include note-taking to create additional resources after the event.

The Facilitator

Our last role of note is the facilitator. This is usually the person who wants to run the event, though you can ask for help from someone if you would like to have a separate individual do the public speaking part. This person should feel comfortable speaking publicly and they should feel comfortable interrupting if (and when!) things start to run off-track.

Bonus! The Pinch-Hitter

If you can, designate someone as a pinch-hitter for the event. If you have a panelist step out last minute, it can give you peace of mind knowing that you have someone in reserve. They can also help with odd tasks with no clear zone as they arise. Things like sending reminder messages, moving chairs, fetching camera hookups, or printing out resources when someone else is too overwhelmed to handle it.

To Wrap Up

Events like this really can not happen without the work that was done by each person involved. I say work because it does take work to put something like this together, no matter how much work was involved by each person or how visible it was.

As we discussed before, try to make small roles for people instead of putting a lot of work on a few people. It makes it easier to know who to talk to and who is responsible for what item.

Next, let’s go over how to keep up communication during this, and how to keep focused on it.

Clear, Honest, Open Communication

When organizing and participating in an event like this, it’s important to keep a focus on communication.

Keeping it clear and direct helps to convey information accurately, and doubly so it helps to keep your requests for help clear. This can help to communicate to your panelists and coordinators what exactly you need from them – and what you don’t. Keeping it honest helps to build trust. Don’t be afraid to be authentic or vulnerable, and share your hesitations and your resolutions to make the event a success. Keeping it open can help resolve conflicts before they escalate, and bring understanding to everyone that’s participating.

That said, communication is a two-way street. You can speak for yourself and only yourself, and hope that you can set a tone that will foster future communication.

Remember that request we had for a Zoom recording? I communicated with our panelists about it, and I made it clear that we would not record anyone without permission. A panelist spoke up, stating that they wouldn’t be comfortable being recorded, so the recording was dismissed without further discussion. The panelist was clear and honest, and that was met with respect from the group.

Recognize Work and Achievements in Multiple Ways

Three audiences should hear the thank you messages.

The Audiences

  1. Your group as a whole (Including folks who did not attend the event)
  2. Your audience at the event (Ideally at the end of the event while they are still seated)
  3. Your coordinators and panelists individually

The Thank You’s

  1. To the Audience, for taking the time to attend and for opening their minds to new information.
  2. To the Coordinators, who worked behind the scenes to help with food, organization, and materials for the event.
  3. To the Panelists. Visibility and vulnerability go hand in hand, and it takes a lot of strength to speak on behalf of the community.

For your coordinators and speakers, try to make a written thank you. This could be a note card, postcard, letter, sticky note, or an email. (Tip: don’t start the thank you note with the phrase “Thank you.” Start by recognizing their effort and how it impacted the event. It’s hard to continue writing after you say thank you, so leave it for the end of the note.)

Of course, your mileage may vary based on what opportunities you have to recognize these groups and based on what you feel is appropriate for your event.

The Feedback

It’s a good idea to keep some method of note taking — a notebook or a laptop — handy with you during and after the event. You will likely see some feedback pop up from folks at inopportune moments and you will want a way to capture that feedback. This feedback can help drive any follow-up events that you would like to host, and it can inform what went well and what needs to change.

Try to separate feedback that you can act upon and feedback that’s driven by people’s emotional experiences. It’s not an exact science, separating these two areas of feedback that you may hear, but make a solid attempt for your own sake and for the sake of the people around you.

The Slides

Last but not least, we present to you our Slidedeck from the opening presentation. The audience is based in Ann Arbor, Mich., at an office with open LGBTQIA+ support. Some of this information was going to be basic for a majority of our audience. Still, I felt it necessary to lay groundwork and to reestablish some definitions that we assume that people know (ie. Gay, Bisexual) and to wrap them all up in explicit terms.

By sharing these slides, I hope that we can give you some perspective into what kind of information is important to share.

Concluding Thoughts

We learned so much from hosting this event. We learned what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be adjusted. We’re already thinking about the next iteration of this event since there will always be new employees and new information to share. We’re hoping to continue building knowledge and bridges between communities. In sharing our experience with this event and the principles that guided us, we aim to help demystify the process for starting an event like this for yourself!

Have you ever participated in an event like this? What did you teach your audience? What did they teach you?


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