Not so long ago the terms camp and camping in the queer community referred to a “Boys in the Band” sensibility that parodied the dominant culture and frequently revolved around bitchy and witty repartee. However, with the development of camps across the country for queer youth, the terms have taken on a new and different meaning in the queer community.
Saskatchewan has become the latest province to organize a camp where queer youth can come together to support one another and develop leadership skills. An organizing committee has been planning the first Saskatchewan Camp Fyrefly since last summer. Their first camp will be held August 20 to 23 in Saskatoon.
Camp Fyrefly first started in Alberta in 2004 when Dr André Grace and Kris Wells of the Institute for Sexual Minority Study and Services at the University of Alberta held their first camp. They bill it as a leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirit, intersexed, queer, questioning and allied youth. It is designed to help youth develop the leadership skills and resilience necessary for them to become change agents in their schools, families, and communities.
“When I first heard about the camp I realized [it] would have helped me immensely when I was growing up,” says Tony Bidulka, co-chair of the Saskatchewan organizing committee. “I think in some ways the camp is fulfilling a dream. I think it’s important to look after our youth so their teen years are much better than many of ours were.”
The camp is peer driven and jam-packed with drama, music, writing, visual art, empowerment and reflection exercises, anti-oppression work, personal growth opportunities, healthy socialization, and in-depth learning activities about specific youth topics and social issues. It will feature day and evening workshops, with designated time set aside for personal reflection, community building, and social activities.
The college of education at the University of Saskatchewan and the faculty of education at the University of Regina jointly sponsor the Saskatchewan camp. It will alternate each year between Saskatoon and Regina and is open to all queer youth 14 to 24 in Saskatchewan.
Bidulka says the camp will cost between $40,000 to $50,000 to run, but youth attending are only required to pay a $25 registration fee and their transportation costs to get to Saskatoon. Bidulka says they have received individual and corporate donations to help defray the costs of running Saskatchewan’s camp but they still need to raise more funds to ensure that youth who want to attend are able to do so. The camp can accommodate 42 youth at a cost of about $300 per camper.
Organizers have planned fundraisers and are looking for individuals or businesses that are willing to make donations to help queer youth attend the camp. All donations will receive an income tax receipt through the University of Regina. Donations can be made online or by mail.
The urban camp will take place at the Queen’s House of Retreat in Saskatoon, which is not a retirement home for aging queers, but rather a retreat and renewal center operated by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The facilities provide dining facilities, sleeping accommodations and meeting rooms as well as a relaxing garden on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.
“The firefly is one of the only animals that produces its own energy, which I think is a poignant symbol for the camp,” says Kris Wells, the camp’s co-founder. “We want to move youth from feeling at risk to feeling resilient in their communities, so that their own light can glow in dark times.”
British Columbia will also be holding their first Camp Fyrefly this summer on July 2 to 5.