Camp OUTdoors!

By Laura Latzko, September 2016 Issue.

Each summer, there’s a camp for LGBTQ youth that promises opportunities to meet peers, to find role models and mentors, to create community, to discover more about yourself and your identities and to evolve as a leader.

Which is why more than 300 youth from throughout Arizona – as well as Massachusetts, Washington, New York, California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida – applied in hopes of being selected to be a part of this life-changing experience.

Established by one n ten’s director of programs Kado Stewart, in 2008 as part of her Prescott College senior project, Camp OUTdoors! had just over 40 youth in its first year and has been growing consistently every year since.

This year, 150 to 175 young people – ages 11 to 24 – will head to Prescott from, for Camp OUTdoors! Sept. 2 to 5.

Finding Your Tribe

According to Mike Schneider, assistant camp director and one n ten youth center program coordinator, camp is the first time many of the youth are around other LGBTQ youth.

“For a lot of campers, this is the first official LGBTQ event. Some of them don’t have another LGBTQ friend,” Schneider said. “It’s usually the first time in their life that they know there is some sort of support out there.”

For transgender and gender non-conforming youth, who made up 40 to 50 percent of the camp population, Stewart said being around others like themselves can be especially affirming.

“If you look at history, and even the past few years, trans folks have been made to feel like they don’t exist,” Stewart said. “Having youth be able to meet other youth, mentors and volunteers that identify as transgender or gender queer is really important because it really validates them, knowing there are other people that might be going through similar struggles.”

A Sense of Community

At camp, youth are encouraged to get to know people of all ages and all experiences, which Stewart said is an important part of community building – not just at camp.

“We need to come together to support each other and show, one, we are not invisible; two, we can’t be erased; and, three, that we are stronger together,” Stewart said.

Developing a stronger sense of self, building a community and finding sources of strength are especially important for LGBTQ youth, Stewart said, because of the issues they often face outside of camp, which can include bullying violence, homelessness as well as discrimination from faith organizations, family members and classmates.

Although society continues to progress, with LGBTQ people gaining such rights such as marriage equality and the right to serve openly in the military, Stewart said an open and inclusive camp for LGBTQ youth and allies is still needed.

“The issues facing LGBT youth are not the same as the issues facing LGBT adults who have their own autonomy to be able to make their own decisions in their lives,” Stewart said. “The issues facing LGBT youth are very pressing. Even though our LGBT youth have fought for marriage equality and are looking for equality in the workplace, the issues [they are facing] are definitely more personal.”

Photo courtesy of one n ten.

It Takes A Village

Community members are essential to making camp a success each year, serving as volunteers, workshop leaders, counselors, mentors and role models for the campers.

This year, representatives from Phoenix Pride, GLSEN, members of the Grand Canyon Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and Phoenix Women’s Chorus, local drag queens and State Senator Katie Hobbs will serve as counselors and lead workshops or activities at camp.

According to Schneider, adult mentors play an important role in shaping the lives of youths at camp.

“Sometimes, they don’t have an adult that identifies as LGBT in their lives, so it’s the first time they’ve received support from an adult who identifies similarly to them,” Schneider said.

Although the exchanges between mentors and mentees may only last a few days, Schneider and Stewart said they make a lasting impression.

Camper Development

Many youth have grown up at camp – starting out as campers and moving up to such leadership roles as counselors in training (CITs), members of OUTscouts!, volunteers, workshop leaders and counselors.

As part of the CIT program, youth 20 to 24 years old take on leadership roles in cabins by aiding counselors and leading activities.

OUTscouts!, a program for Arizona youth that has developed out of camp, allows participants opportunities to go on outdoor trips and learn wilderness skills throughout the year, and also take on leadership roles at camp by leading wilderness-based workshops.

Youth play in important role in leading and shaping camp each year, and are encouraged to apply the leadership skills they learn at camp in their everyday lives and in their communities. As a result, a number of campers have gone on to start GSAs at their schools and help to run LGBTQ programs in their communities – and that, Stewart said, is really what it’s all about.

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