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This is a guest post written by Amanda Grassick.
At the heart of most camp communities is the desire to provide an environment where campers, staff and families can truly be themselves and build authentic connections with others. Camp professionals talk passionately about what camp has meant to them and how camp has helped them to grow into the person they are now. As an industry we spend countless hours thinking about how to maximize the camp experience for our participants and staff. Many organizations are starting the important work of looking at how they can build safer and more inclusive camps for members of the 2SLGTBQ+ (two spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and other identities).
The Pride Camping Association was established in 2018 to help camps better support 2SLGBTQ+ campers and staff. We envision a world where all 2SLGBTQ+ campers and staff have access to safe and affirming camp programs.
Here are 5 ways you can make your camp a more welcoming and affirming community this summer.
1. Educate Yourself!
Congratulations on working to make your camp community inclusive and welcoming to 2SLGTBQ+ campers, staff and families! I know that for many campers, families, staff and organizations creating a welcoming environment is something that is entirely new. It is okay to be nervous, be bubbling with questions, and to not really know where to begin.
Like anything worthwhile, being inclusive takes time and energy and most importantly lots of intention. Being a truly welcoming camp doesn’t happen by accident and reading this article is an awesome first step.
2. Get to Know Pronouns
Pronouns are words that replaces a noun, for example a person’s name, in a sentence. In most communities in North America, folks have grown up in communities that use gendered pronouns to refer to individuals, for example “she/her/hers” and “he/him/his”. Not only do gendered pronouns take the place of someone’s name, they also confer a gender to the person to who they are referring.
Alternatively, gender-neutral pronouns, for example “they/them/theirs” and ze/hir/hirs”, refer to an individual without (necessarily) indicating a gender.
Think about when you meet someone for the first time. Do you immediately start referring to them as she or he when you think about them? Many of us have grown up to unconsciously decide which pronouns someone uses based on our assumption about a person’s gender. People make these assumptions based on what they consider to be social norms about how people of different genders dress, style their hair, behave, etc.
The problem is that lots of folks do not identify with this assumed gender. When someone uses pronouns that do not match a person’s gender identity, it is called misgendering. Being misgendered takes an emotional toll and can contribute to a camp feeling unsafe and unwelcoming, particularly when done by one’s supervisor or camp leadership.
On the flip side, when someone takes the time to learn your pronouns and use it consistently, this helps to build a welcoming and inclusive community.
- Provide opportunities for individuals to identify the pronouns they use. This can be done by providing space on staff information forms for pronouns and identifying your pronouns when you introduce yourself. For example, “Hi my name is Amanda and I use They/Them pronouns.”
- Including pronouns on name tags.
- When you are not sure what pronoun a person uses, use their name or a gender-neutral pronoun.
3. Check Your Policies
Whether your policies are developed at the camp-level or within a larger organization, they can often be the product of history. At some camps, these are living documents that are reviewed and updated annually and, for some organizations, policies have not been significantly reviewed for much longer.
In either case, I recommend sitting down with your leadership team to review the policies on a yearly basis. Whenever possible, include staff who identify as part of the 2SLGTBQ+ community in this review. These folks will have valuable insight about how your policies affect them on a daily basis and will often have fantastic suggestions for making policies more inclusive.
I recognize that changing policies can feel daunting to folks, but often small tweaks make a big difference. For example, simply stating that a uniform policy applies to staff of all genders can help to make a camp feel more welcoming.
The Pride Camping Association provides Sample Policies on the Resources page of our website.
4. Train for Inclusion
You cannot make your camp a welcoming and inclusive space without the support of your entire staff team.
During training or orientation, staff will need to learn what policies, procedures and expectations your camp has in place to support members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. It is also essential that staff learn how they can help to create an inclusive and welcoming environment.
After 2SLGBTQ+ training staff should know:
- Camp and organizational policies
- Basic 2SLGBTQ+ terminology and definitions
- How to use inclusive language
- How to create a safe environment for 2SLGBTQ+ campers, staff and families
- How to support 2SLGBTQ+ campers and families
- How to address micro-aggressions and bullying
Regardless of whether your camp has 2SLGBTQ+ identified campers or staff attending this year, taking time to train staff members on this information will aid in establishing and maintaining an inclusive and safe environment for any participants or staff members that may privately identify as or have an affiliation with being 2SLGBTQ+.
5. Designate an Inclusion Head
Successful camps all know that having clear roles and responsibilities is essential for the smooth functioning of camp once programs get underway. If staff do not know who they can talk to if the door in their cabin breaks, most likely it’s going to take a long time to get the door fixed. By the same token, if a camper does not know who to talk to if they need help, that camper might never get that help. When campers and staff know who they can bring their concerns to, not only are they more likely to feel comfortable asking for help or support, but they are also more likely to feel that the camp community cares about them.
Clearly designating a staff member to be person to talk to about 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion sends a strong signal that your camp cares about 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion and the experience of all campers and staff.
This individual does not need to be the Camp Director or the most senior staff member at camp (although they can be). What is most important is that the designated staff be comfortable discussing issues that may arise for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, knowledge about camp policies and that they have open-lines of communication with camp leadership.
If you are looking for more information, support and resource please head on over to pridecamping.org or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, instagram.com/pridecamping/ or facebook.com/pridecamping
Amanda Grassick is the Co-Founder of the Pride Camping Association and the Camp Director at Easter Seals Camp Woodeden, an overnight camp for children, youth and young adults living with physical disabilities. They have over 20 years of experience working the the camping and youth development field and have held leadership positions in camping programs across Canada. For the past 14 years, Amanda has focused on working with campers, staff and organizations representing marginalized and diverse communities, with particular focus on using anti-oppressive theory and practice to help organizations develop policies and guidelines that foster inclusion. Amanda identifies as queer and genderqueer, and draws on their personal experiences in the camping community to advocate for more inclusive programs and spaces.
Body Paint photo by Sharon McCutcheon
Love Print Hoodie photo by Rosemary Ketchum