While the visibility of the LGBTQA+ community becomes increasingly more common, and stronger, across our country, we can’t think of a place we feel more at home, and safe, then when we’re at camp. As everyone should feel, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. Camp is a place where our differences can be celebrated, and of course, an environment where each camper and counselor are encouraged to become the best version of themselves. Would having stronger LGBT visibility at camp be beneficial? In short, yes of course! Even small reminders of your camp being an LGBT ally could make a staff member, or camper, feel more welcome. In this time, it’s not obvious who’s an ally, it could be as simple as an LGBT safe space sign in your main office, or a rainbow flag hanging proudly in a bunk. Little reminders could make a large impact on not only how your staff speak about the LGBT community, but also how your campers may perceive the LGBT community. You don’t have to be a part of the LGBT community to be an ally.
Taking time to address to your staff the possibility of a conversation between them and a camper about their sexuality is more important now than ever. It’s not a conversation that should be shutdown. LGBT youth sometimes feel isolated from their friends because of their mixed feelings and their counselors are sometimes the only ones they feel comfortable talking too. If your staff isn’t comfortable, or wanting to, speak on these issues they should give that camper another option for outlet. Am I the person? If not, who is? These conversations are of the utmost importance and should not be shrugged off. If you find you’re unable to assist, make sure you let them know that you’re not the best person to talk to but there’s other counselors able to help them out. Also, thank them. Coming out can be one of the most difficult things for a young LGBT individual to do. “Hey, thanks for talking to me about this. I’m not sure if I’m the best person to help out, let’s see if ______ is available.” Respect whatever answer they give you. Sometimes it’s just as valuable to listen with limited feedback. Simple active listening techniques can make that individual feel more comfortable to communicate with you.
“What if my camp doesn’t approve of this type of conversation?” One answer is to find a different camp to work at. More proper answer would call for some clarification. Does your camp have a religious affiliation that actively practices “traditional” values? If you share that affiliation it’s ultimately your choice to work in that environment, however there are religiously affiliated camps that accept and appreciate the LGBT community. Do some research when applying for camp next summer. Camp is not the place for people to judge one another…unless it’s Color War. As stated before, camp is place where our differences can be celebrated, and of course, an environment where each camper and counselor are encouraged to become the best version of themselves. Some camps that aren’t religiously affiliated rather avoid the conversation all together, don’t do this. I’m sure you know this already, but camp is where some individuals feel most comfortable to be themselves. If your camp hosts the age where sexuality is a possible conversation, then your staff should be properly prepared for that. Set your staff up for success. Simply adding a sexuality and gender identity workshop to your staff orientation could mean the difference of one campers’ summer where they felt able to express themselves in a positive and encouraging light or shutdown and felt even more like an outcast.
This is one of the specific topics that Bunk Discussions was created for. There’s no one answer to these difficult questions that happen every summer around the world, but ignoring the question, or worse, shaming it, can create an environment we don’t want our campers or counselors being a part of. Camp cultures have no room for bigotry in their community of acceptance and encouragement. Shout out to LGBT camp professionals new and old! We hope you feel appreciated and valued in your camp community.
Your unofficial co-counselor,