A California summer camp is taking inclusiveness to a new level: Camp Quest West in California, which offers outdoor adventures for kids ages 8 to 17, recently updated its policies to help trans, gender-fluid and non-binary campers feel safe and welcome.
Under the new gender-inclusion guidelines, parents can register campers as as “male,” “female,” or “other,” and specify their camper’s preferred name and gender pronouns. They can also choose whether their child prefers to be in a boys’ cabin, a girls’ cabin, or a gender-inclusive/non-binary cabin.
Taking effect in the 2017 camping season, the policy stipulates that all staff will receive training on respecting gender identities, and that camp activities will no longer be segregated by gender. In addition, all single-occupant bathrooms will be re-designated as gender-neutral.
In an extensive FAQ on its website Camp Quest West guides parents through common concerns and emphasizes that “all conventional social norms about respect, modesty, and civility apply.”
— Camp Quest West (@CampQuestWest) December 22, 2016
Our favorite question on the FAQ? “Isn’t this a lot of work to accommodate a very small number of campers?” Mainly because of the response: “Nope. (And each camper is worth it.)”
According to the HRC’s 2012 LGBT Youth Survey, only 5% of gender-expansive youth report “definitely fitting in” in their communities, while 30% report “definitely not fitting in.” Gender-nonconforming youth were also much less likely than straight, cisgender kids to say they have an adult they can turn to if they feel worried or sad.
Research has found that family and community acceptance lead to more positive health outcomes for all LGBT kids.
While there are summer camps geared specifically toward trans and gender-nonconforming kids, like Camp Aranu’tiq in New Hampshire, Camp Quest West is breaking new ground in the mainstream.
The change in policy began several years ago at the camp’s leadership summit, when board members heard a talk by the director of Camp Aranu’tiq. After the presentation, CQW board member Trevor Lynn offered to spearhead a gender-inclusion committee.
“We strive to teach and live by humanist values and being inclusive is a major part of those values,” Lynn told NewNowNext. “We realized it would be difficult to teach our campers to be inclusive of everyone if we were excluding a significant portion of the population.”
Lynn said the camp had already hosted a number of trans and non-binary campers, some of whom came out to staff members. But without a standardized way to address those campers’ needs, they were frequently misgendered, or felt awkward during arbitrarily gendered activities.
“We knew it was already a challenge that needed to be addressed,” Lynn added. “We don’t want to exclude kids because we don’t recognize them for who they are. That’s bad business, and bad role-modeling. And it goes against our values.”
So far, the camp has received only positive feedback on the new policy. “We have a lot of camper retention and we see the same families every year” said CQW board president Brian Parra. “They know us, volunteer for us, and support us. I don’t think that most of the people who share our values will find this policy very controversial. They come to us because we are adamantly tolerant, inclusive and diverse already, and none yet have objected.”
In the weeks since the policy was introduced, six campers have already asked for a gender-inclusive cabin assignments. “Knowing that so many campers have availed themselves of our new cabin policy confirms this was necessary and perhaps overdue,” he explains.
CQW’s parent organization, Camp Quest, was founded to serve the children of secular, agnostic and atheist families. Parra says the camps emphasize those values in a positive, humanistic way—which means accepting all children, regardless of identity.
“Kids from mixed religious/secular families, where the child is religious are common, and they are never ostracized. We go to great lengths to make sure they feel welcome and never excluded.We’re adamant about tolerance, diversity, and respect for all people, regardless of race, religion, or identity as policy.”
“Non-binary kids exist,” he added, “therefore they are welcome at our camp.”
Both Parra and Lynn also emphasized that although the new policy aims to make trans and non-binary campers and staff feel comfortable, it also benefits cisgender campers and staff.
“Including people with diverse identities is the single best way to battle stereotypes and teach people how to celebrate diversity,” says Lynn. “Everyone is going to benefit from this policy: trans and non-binary people will be able to enjoy camp as their authentic selves, and cisgender people will have the opportunity to meet others who challenge traditional notions of gender and, hopefully, expand their consciousness a little.”