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Out & Out Jamboree: summer camp for queer adults

Dockside antics

KUMBAYA. Out and Out's Jamboree is a summer camp experience for queer adults. Credit: (Leah Taylor)

Billed as a summer camp for queer adults, Jamboree is one part dreamy, tanned, smiling camp counsellors; two parts queer and trans campers; and zero parts children.

This month repressed childhood dreams will finally come true for 225 participants as they bunk down and spend time frolicking in a pristine lake — no motorized boats are allowed — and rediscovering every meaning of the word “camp.”

“It’s like rustic cottaging,” says Mike Peppard, “only someone else is doing all the cooking.”

“No,” Hollie Devlin chimes in. “Rustic cottaging means no plumbing and this place has plumbing.”

Peppard and Devlin are two organizers with Out and Out, a community group for adults who are into outdoor recreation, social events and sports. Every summer the organization hosts the Jamboree, a volunteer-run camping extravaganza. This year’s event runs Mon, Aug 20 to 26.

“The Jamboree is kind of a culmination,” Devlin says. “It’s the best of everything that the club does.”

The event has been drawing queer campers from around the province and across the country for about 17 years. By the time the queers arrive at Camp Timberlane each summer the kids are long gone and only the counsellors remain. Campers have free run of the grounds and, just like those summers so many years ago, organizers prepare a jam-packed itinerary.

“You can spend your day going from activity to activity, which is all volunteer-driven,” Devlin says. “You can glue macaroni on picture frames or you can learn how to windsurf or you can go out in a kayak with your sweetie.”

Or, since this is an adults-only event, you can spend your days relaxing and drinking beer (BYOB) on the dock. Accordingly, Out and Out organizers brew massive pots of coffee every morning. The enthusiasm for a morning caffeine jolt is matched only by the enthusiasm for the Jamboree itself.

“It’s a main feature of the club and there are people who are members just to go to the Jamboree,” says Devlin.

Tranquility pervades at the Haliburton-area camp. “When you stop to listen, if you’re not actively involved in stuff, all you hear is laughter and singing the whole week long,” says Devlin. “It’s amazing. You get goosebumps.”

The event is the pinnacle of five months of planning by a dozen Out and Out volunteers. Another 12 volunteers run the overall organization, which pumps out quarterly newsletters and several events every week of the year. The 27-year-old club runs most of its events through a decentralized system where members organize their own excursions and throw them open to the group.

“One of the neat things about the club is, because it’s volunteer driven, you get the extremes,” Peppard says. “Everything from winter camping and whitewater rafting, all the way to potlucks and winery tours.”

Yes, potlucks. Contrary to the club’s extreme sports image, a big portion of its activities aren’t sport-based. In August, for example, members will be partying at Buddies, watching and discussing foreign films and discussing investment strategies, in addition to Jamboree.

“[Out and Out] is a great introduction for anybody new to Toronto,” Peppard observes. “There are so many things to do, whether you go on a heritage tour or go camping or go to the movies and it’s a great introduction to the city.”

“It’s also great for someone coming out so they can find support that isn’t cruisey,” Devlin adds.

On the heels of a successful presence in the Dyke March, the pair agrees that a next step for the club is increasing its numbers of trans and young adult members, and working extra hard to ensure the membership reflects the community it serves.

“We’re going to do a lot more diversity work and that’s a tough one to do,” Devlin says. “We want to be more inclusive of our community and be diverse in every sense.

“I think one of the strengths of the club, too, is the mix of men and women. I love being around that mixed group and my gang has as many men as women.”