Under the majestic cedars of Brackendale, BC, 60 campers and 10 youth leaders sat huddled around a “faux-fire” of coloured crêpe paper and flashlights.
“Listening that first night of camp as the youth had a check-in around the faux-fire, I was so moved by what I heard,” says Ross Johnstone, who chairs the programming committee for CampOUT. “They said they were thankful for their courage to even come to camp and acknowledge their orientation.”
The summer camp for queer, trans and allied youth ages 14 to 21 took place from Aug 5 to 8. Put on with the support of UBC’s Access and Diversity department, the camp is subsidized so that each camper pays only $25, when the cost to run the camp is more than $1,000 per youth.
“I am passionate about camp,” says director Anna White. “There are lots of opportunities for urban queer youth, but nothing out in nature. I love the outdoors and the community that you can build when you’re living together.
“We wanted to create a space that was so full of affirmation that the youth can recognize and value the ways in which they are each unique,” White continues. “We’ve tried to focus on wholeness, choices on how to embrace our identity, sexualities and personalities, encouraging the youth to be resilient.”
Seventeen-year-old Jude had to come out to attend camp.
“I really wanted to come. Where I am from, I only knew one person who was out. I came out to my parents because I needed their consent to attend because I am younger,” Jude says.
“I had identified as male but I was born gender neutral. I had never heard of that and didn’t even know it was an option. Being here has been really eye opening,” Jude continues. “You think you’re alone, but there are so many friends you just haven’t met yet.”
The youth began each morning after breakfast with a 20-minute address by a different community hero. During the day, they attended a variety of workshops on arts and performance, health, community building and leadership. Their nights were filled with talent showcases and dance parties.
Taylor Basso is a youth leader at the camp and one of many decked out in sparkles.
“Today there are lots of hugs, and crying,” Basso says on the last night of camp. “We’ve made such amazing bonds, and there’s the realization that as of tomorrow, we’re alone again. You might be going back to a community that doesn’t have a lot of resources. It’s hard to get used to a world that doesn’t have rainbows on every wall. I am grateful to have been part of this because I remember there was nothing like this for me.”
Sixteen-year-old Joe loved his time at camp. “I wanted a really great experience with no haters. It’s been amazing; I have learned so much about myself. After nine years of summer camp, CampOUT was definitely the best.”