Summer camp is a right of passage for many—whether it be day camp, sleep-away camp, a specific interest program, or just pitching a pup tent in the backyard or living room, these memories can last a lifetime. LGBTQ children and young adults should not be left out of these experiences. But there are camps that are still turning away transgender and gender-nonconforming people because they “can’t be accommodated.”
Recently, a young transgender boy was refused admission to summer camp in Payson, Arizona. The camp in question promotes itself as “inclusive” and has an extensive anti-bullying policy. But the camp CEO turned the boy away, offering a refund (the cost of which was covered by a full scholarship) and stating that, “we recently learned as we planned for our camps that in order to fully accommodate transgender youth, we would need additional staff training for all our camp counselors. Therefore we felt that at this time, we would not be capable of accommodating… the specific camper.” Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization has been in touch with the boy’s family and has offered to provide training to the camp. Yet, as of today, the camp has not been responsive to those requests.
What do you do if you or your child is turned away from summer camp solely due to their gender identity? Even in 2019, when the Girl Scouts of the United States of America have been openly accepting transgender participants and the Boy Scouts of America have been openly accepting females in nearly all programs, gender variant kids are left out and told to stay home. We have no national or statewide transgender-inclusive nondiscrimination laws that make such discrimination expressly illegal. Many summer camps are church-sponsored, and so could be exempt from such laws even if there were in place. Many camps in the state are theoretically open to accepting trans campers but will still turn them away because they falsely believe that they are not prepared to “handle” them. Tom Fraker, CEO of the previously mentioned camp in Arizona, claimed that they needed a counselor with a special degree to be present if trans campers were on site. If any such policy exists, it was self-imposed. But trans-friendly camps do exist!
Ohio 4-H has hosted LGBTQ+ Youth Summits and also accepts any child who wants to be included. Interm director Kirk Bloir has stated, “if parents or volunteers don’t like that [accepting queer and trans participants], then we are not the program for them.” The Ohio School Board Association has also taken a stand for gender variant children by publishing resources on its website on how to accommodate transgender students, including in afterschool and summer programming. There is also a summer camp specifically geared towards transgender youth here in Ohio. Camp Lilac in Northeastern Ohio hosts transgender campers aged 12-17. A “welcoming space for transgender youth to be themselves in a positive, supportive, youth-focused environment,“ Camp Lilac specifically groups campers by age and not gender. It also makes a point to hire staff and volunteers that are transgender themselves. Outside of Ohio, gender variant campers can attend Camp Highlight in Pennsylvania, Camp Aranu’tiq in New Hampshire, Camp Lightbulb in Massachusetts, Camp Outright in Vermont, and several more camps in both the United States and Canada. Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) has published a list of some of these camps, although the list is not all-exhaustive. There are also more and more camps geared toward transgender adults. Perhaps the most well-known is Camp OUT, the original camping experience for masculine gender outlaws. There is also Camp Camp in Maine, Camp Lost Boys in Colorado, and Venture Out, which organizes trips and events for both children and adults. What all of these camps have in common is that they realize there are no “special accommodations” needed to make all campers feel welcome and included! If you believe you or your child was wrongfully discriminated against this summer, please reach out to Equality Ohio Legal Clinic for assistance!