Summer Camps for LGBT Children
Where do LGBT people go to socialize, meet other LGBT people and feel like they belong? Gay bars and clubs, right? While for many this may be true and sufficient, unfortunately such spaces – that constitute the majority of LGBT safe spaces, and more-often-than-not are not safe in themselves – cannot include and cater to the needs of all LGBT people. Many of us feel the need to socialize in a safer, more low-key way, would rather keep it friendly, non-sexual and safer. Clubs and bars are not accessible to everyone safe and suitable for everyone. Thankfully more and more LGBT spaces which are inclusive, such as coffee shops, youth centers, libraries etc. have started making their appearance. And yet the question remains: what about the kids?
It is a question usually phrased by anti-LGBT people who use appeal to emotions techniques and demonstrate a concern for the wellbeing of children as LGBT people gain more rights. However, the real question is: what about LGBT children searching for somewhere to belong? What about children of LGBT families who wish to meet others like them? Certainly the club cannot be a suitable space for kids to socialize and be visible and safe.
Being an LGBTQI child can be quite hard, especially when your family and educational environment are not supportive of your identity and do not respect your feelings and experiences. Sometimes even if their family is supportive, school may be hard and children might feel like they have no one to turn to, no adults or peers to support them and embrace who they are.
Students are often bullied about their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. This is a real struggle, especially if added to all the stress of student life. Negative experiences in school can lead to absenteeism, fear, anger, sadness, and trigger various mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even suicidal thoughts. As GLSEN’s School Climate Survey has repeatedly shown already, being an LGBTQI child or teenager in school can be a particularly challenging experience. LGBTQI students tend to have lower grades, skip classes more, and experience long term problems caused by bullying and harassment at school. The situation in schools can be dramatically improved if the school itself, along with the teachers and administration, show support.
Creating a safe space in schools is a result of various factors: no tolerance of harassment, homophobic and transphobic behaviors, respecting people’s identities, using the correct names and pronouns, and obviously train teachers and professors in LGBTI issues in order to render them capable of effectively handling these situations and not acting in homophobic/transphobic ways. It is also very important for school books and courses to include LGBT issues, characters and identities and sufficiently represent the realities of all children and families.
Ensuring respect and making classes and class material inclusive, can help create a safe environment for LGBTQI students at schools, and this is absolutely vital because education is one of the most important parts of young people’s lives, and the school is the main type of society in which children and adults get to participate.
Yet there still lingers the question: what is left there if schools are not supportive enough, and what happens outside school?
Children, just like adults – if not more – desperately need safe spaces where they can meet other children like them, be visible and socialize. Children and adolescents need community as we all do in order to develop their personalities, and in that process they need spaces – both literal and metaphorical – where they can freely express their true selves.
Thankfully, some progress has been made. LGBT spaces and events that have children in mind are being organized, such as LGBT or LGBT-friendly summer camps. Here you can find a list with LGBT summer camps in the US and Canada, where non straight and trans or gender-non-conforming children in general can feel safe, at east, and most importantly, among other children who relate, respect and understand them.
In cities such as Washington, Arizona, California, Vermont, Pennsylvania and Ontario, children can attend camps that combine exploring nature, roaming mountains and lakes, and horseback riding, with workshops, drag shows and inclusive fashion shows, where gender roles do not oppress children, and they can explore possibilities and express themselves freely in ways that they otherwise cannot!
A great example is this camp for gender-non-conforming kids, that gives them the space to explore their preferred gender expression and be themselves together with their peers.
It is vital for children to get the chance to meet each other and form friendships, to learn about respect, diversity and self-acceptance, and to simply get to have fun! For LGBTQI children, the opportunity to do all this might seem quite rare, but such spaces and events encourage children to participate and give them a sense of belonging, in ages that are fundamental for their healthy development into full, well-rounded, confident adults.