By: Susie Berg
Ask what made an overnight camp experience meaningful for someone and you will often hear the answer “camp gave me the chance to be myself.” But what if you’re not sure who your self is? What if the language and spaces around you don’t include terminology with which you identify? For transgender people, these questions are a daily reality. That’s why Camp George continues its work to make sure camp is a safe and open space for all who are part of our community.
How do we do this? Camp George has gender-neutral bathrooms and signage to support them — and our camp staff helped to create the signage so that it’s meaningful to the camp community. Staff members have been trained to understand, truly, what it means to respect the human rights of all people they work with. In the case of campers, it means staff ask them where and how they are comfortable changing and showering, and make sure they can meet those needs. Our professional staff, lay leaders, and community members have reviewed all of the language in our communications and in daily camp life to look for language that makes assumptions about all kinds of identity, and to change the language to avoid exclusion. We are now reviewing gender norms in our programming.
All of this work is part of an initiative called You Belong. Along with the work above, the group spent time this winter drafting a vision statement reconfirming, and explicitly stating, our commitment to safe and open spaces for all. Associate Director Karen Kollins developed several staff-training components to focus on understanding and confirming identity and invited the group CANVAS to deliver a staff workshop about gender and sexuality at camp. This summer, after determining from various communities that we already meet other inclusion needs in camp’s space, we will do a gendered-spaces audit to ensure that all spaces feel safe and accessible to the LGBTQ community at camp. As well, staff and campers will offer their input throughout the summer on the draft vision statement, bathroom signage, and safe-spaces signage, which will be finalized for Summer 2017.
Together, we are investigating how spaces, language, and systems inadvertently exclude rather than celebrate the many differences people bring to camp; and the effect of that exclusion on young people just as they are developing their identities in all areas of their life (including gender, sexuality, ability, religious identification, food restrictions, family makeup, and more).
Our tent is open, and all are welcome to find and celebrate their true self at Camp George.