By: Gaela Mintz
We, as Jewish camp professionals, are continuously engaged in dialogues about ways that we can improve ourselves. This discussion includes looking at the evolving needs of our staff and campers and evaluating if our environments are constructed to meet those needs. When thinking about the wonderful spectrum of gender and sexual identities that exist within our community, we often realize that our overnight camp experiences are lacking. Our camps are not always welcome places or even designed to be inclusive of individuals who identify within the LGBTQIA community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Asexual).
The good news is that our camps are trying to navigate a path of change. The panel discussion that took place on Thursday, May 19th is evidence of that beginning of change. Canadian Young Judaea and Camp George partnered to hold a “Gender & Sexuality at Camp” Panel Discussion. I was honoured to be invited to facilitate the panel between j wallace skelton, an educator, author and life-long camp fan, who also identifies as queer and trans, Mark Kaychuk, Camp Solelim Staff Member, and Susie Berg, Parent of Camp George Campers. Jeff Rose, Camp George Director, and Adam Shulman, Camp Shalom Director also participated in the panel, and they demonstrated institutional support as well as a willingness to hear from others.
This event was inspiring as there were many supporters from both the Canadian Young Judaea and Camp George communities, who attended the event. The questions and dialogue were focused on positive change and how we can improve as a community to welcome all campers, staff, and families into our Jewish camp environments. Key messages about how to be an ally to members of the LGBTQ community and to be mindful of inclusive language was addressed. The most powerful aspect of the evening was the way that the three main panelists shared their personal narratives of gender and sexual identities in camp settings.
Whether you are personally connected to the LGBTQ community or not, creating positive and inclusive environments for everyone to participate in and feel like they belong is integral to making our camps open and caring. I am proud to be included in this change, and I look forward to hearing about the next stage of development whether it be further staff training, the creation of new policies, changes to outdated programs, or that campers/staff who identify as LGBTQIA feel that they have a place at our camps.
Thank you Camp George and Canadian Young Judaea for making this evening such a success!