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Durham region launches first youth GSA leadership camp

They should be applauded for their courage: PFLAG

Durham PFLAG is launching a GSA training camp for high school students. Credit: Paul Galipeau

Youth know the slurs but don’t really know what “homo” means, says Jayme Harper, PFLAG director for Durham Region.

This July, PFLAG is holding a leadership training camp to encourage high school students working in gay-straight alliance (GSA) groups. Harper says it differs from the Ten Oaks Project, which runs a weeklong sleepaway camp for children and youth in queer families, plus a youth leadership camp for people under 25.

The Durham region, an hour’s drive north of Toronto, is home to 750,000 people. Harper says its high schools are plagued with homophobic bullying.

For privacy reasons, PFLAG prefers not to disclose the new camp’s exact location, but it will be held nearby. First dibs go to kids from areas surrounding Durham, like Oshawa, Ajax and Pickering, but leftover spots will be granted to children from elsewhere.

“Our camp is to be focused on leadership. We’ll take [GSA] presidents in area high schools and bring them,” says Harper. “A GSA isn’t a business, but you need to network and know how to market the group. We’re going to give kids some of these skills.”

The four-day, overnight camp will operate like a sabbatical for kids who want to be or are already involved in GSA groups. Entrance criterion suggests that kids should have finished at least Grade 9 but not Grade 12. Harper says the camp is a place where kids can meet other gay and trans people, bounce ideas off one another and “be the majority instead of the minority.”

To ensure commitment, there is a token fee of $50, which includes food, lodging and activities such as swimming, archery, mountain biking, canoeing and team-building exercises.

Donna McAllister, a mother and PFLAG Durham Region’s co-chair, says the camp is the first of its kind. She hopes there will be more like it in the future.

“Young [lesbian, gay, bi and trans] students who take the initiative to lead and develop a gay-straight alliance group in their schools need the skills to succeed, and we are determined to make sure they have them. In my opinion, they should be applauded for their courage to lead GSAs in their schools and given all the tools and assistance they need to make change happen where it is needed most – in our schools,” she says.

A fundraiser, called An Evening of Hollywood Glamour, will be held April 2. The host is PFLAG Durham Region. Tickets are $50 and can be bought at Sacred Quest in Whitby. Proceeds go to launching the leadership training camp this summer.

Harper says many local city councillors, as well as Oshawa Mayor John Henry and his wife, have already purchased tickets. He says the event is going to be like “a drag show for straight people,” and “all the queens are excited to play for the mayor.”

For more information, check out the Facebook page:
An Evening of Hollywood Glamour.