A camp aimed at fostering leadership and confidence in queer youth is migrating west this summer for a three-day retreat in BC this July.
Camp Fyrefly (which stands for Fostering Youth Resiliency, Energy, Fun, Leadership, Yeah!) is the largest leadership retreat for queer youth in Canada.
Rod Knight, co-chair of the BC steering committee, got involved in Camp Fyrefly in the summer of 2007 when he volunteered as a mentor in Alberta.
“I was teary-eyed,” he recalls. “I was really affected personally.”
Knight says he wishes a camp like Fyrefly had existed when he was younger. “I grew up in Alberta and there was no support in that town,” he says.
Founded in 2004 as a university-community education project spearheaded by the University of Alberta, this summer’s BC version is being produced by the Youth Sexual Health Team of the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.
The BC camp will have room for 60 youth. “Once you get over 60, the camp kind of fragments and can get cliquing,” warns Knight. “We want it to be a community where we can be socially integrated.”
There will also be 20 adult volunteer mentors and facilitators on hand to assist the youth. Older youth will mentor the younger ones in keeping with the camp philosophy “by-youth-for-youth,” Knight adds.
The camp will take place on a remote island off the southern coast of BC and is open to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, queer and allied youth ages 14-24.
While the BC camp will follow the Alberta Fyrefly model, it will differ in that it will have an eco-environment component, something Knight says is distinctly BC.
“[We’ll be] on an island that has 160 acres of forest around us. There’s beaches, there’s canoes, there’s trails,” he says.
Campers will be able to attend workshops on health and sexuality, leadership, diversity and art. While a formal agenda has yet to be established, Knight says planning is underway within the steering committee, in conjunction with a youth advisory committee.
“We’re trying to create ideas,” says 22-year-old Jessica MacLeod of Vancouver.
MacLeod, who sits on the youth advisory committee, says young campers will be given leadership training through workshops focused on media and public speaking.
“Being queer, I think it would be the most fun thing ever to have a bunch of queer people [camping] on an island,” she says.
“I think it is very valuable for other people outside of Vancouver, people who feel isolated,” she adds.
“There is lot of need” for rural youth participation in Camp Fyrefly, Knight agrees. “But that doesn’t mean there’s not a need in urban communities,” he says.
Peer pressure, cultural stigmas and family issues are problems that can affect queer youth from any community, he points out.
Clinton Bird, 22, has never missed a Camp Fyrefly. From Alberta and now living in Vancouver, Bird has been both a camper and camp leader.
“It was a lot of fun. I got to meet people that I usually wouldn’t meet,” he says.
The camp is also important because it offers queer youth an alternative gathering space to the bar scene, he notes.
“It was an amazing experience to see kids unfolding themselves into a safe space,” says queer entertainer and writer, Ivan Coyote.
Coyote, a popular storyteller and Xtra West columnist, was artist-in-residence last year at Camp Fyrefly in Alberta.
Coyote says it was a great experience to watch queer youth feel liberated enough to put on fashion shows and express themselves in various artistic ways while not having “to leave a part of themselves at the door.”
Though the BC camp is not yet ready to receive applications from youth hoping to attend, Knight says he encourages youth from BC and the Yukon to apply when registration begins.
Youth hoping to secure a spot will have to pay a $25 registration fee.
Knight estimates it will cost approximately $250 per youth to attend the three-day camp. Fyrefly is funded by corporate sponsors and individual community donors.
For more information or to make a donation or sponsor a youth to go to queer summer camp visit Camp Fyrefly