The subject of transgender staff at camps is one that is getting a lot of play lately. For those camps that have not yet dealt with a current staff member transitioning or a new prospective transgender staff member, they will likely find themselves faced with these issues in the near future. What do camps need to know?
Transgender staff need not be a daunting topic. Many camps wonder how other staff, campers, and parents of campers would feel if there was a transgender staff member at camp. First, as always, look for quality in a staff applicant. What you should be most concerned with is whether you feel the person would be an asset to your camp staff — helping to maintain a safe and fun atmosphere while furthering your mission. As with all staff, their gender identity and expression should be matched with their housing situation. In other words, if they identify as male, they should be in a cabin with males, and vice versa for females.
What is gender identity?
Gender identity is “one’s internal sense of who one is; being a woman or man, girl or boy, or between or beyond these genders” (Teich, 2012). How is this different from sexual orientation? Sexual orientation describes whom one is romantically attracted to (men, women, etc.). This is not dictated by gender identity. We all have a gender identity and a sexual orientation that are independent of each other. For instance, you might identify as a woman, but this is completely separate from the fact that you are attracted to ________.
What about gender expression?
Gender expression is “the external representation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through feminine or masculine behaviors and signals such as clothing, hair, movement, voice, or body characteristics” (University of Minnesota, 2008; Teich, 2012).
It is important to have a policy for your camp that is dictated from the top down. Start with adding gender identity and expression to your anti-discrimination policy and follow it up with a statement of support for staff to live in your camp community according to gender identity. This need not stand as its own document; it can be added into a document that outlines respect for a diverse staff in general. There should never be an expectation, by parents or otherwise, that your camp asks a potential staff member what he or she looks like without clothes on. In other words, you as the camp need to go by gender identity and expression, not by whether that matches the said staff member’s genitalia (either now or at birth). This would never be appropriate to discuss in other situations and someone being transgender does not change that.
You may well have applicants and current staff whom you do not even know are technically transgender, because either they do not identify as such and they just identify as male or female, or because they are “stealth” and there is no reason for anyone to know.
Some camps worry about a transgender staff member being seen naked when they haven’t had genital reassignment surgery yet (or aren’t planning to at all). If you have written in your policies that staff are not to be seen naked in front of campers or other staff (e.g., they should change clothes in private – a good idea to have this for all staff!), and you trust the people you hired, then you should not have to worry about incidents where any staff member is seen naked.
What about transgender staff members talking about their gender identity (“coming out,”) or others finding out even if they aren’t talking about it?
Start by approaching the staff member and having a frank conversation. Does this person intend to be “out?” If so, have they thought about what they would say if they got questions from campers? Have they thought about how not to make their personal story distract campers and staff from the general camp experience? It is important to add a transgender/gender component into staff training, and in my opinion, into a diversity talk that you might have with all campers upon their arrival. For staff, the training can be more in-depth, and you should work with the transgender staff member as to whether that person wants to be included in the training. For campers, it works to have a simple addition that there are people of all gender identities at camp (and an explanation of what that means) and everyone needs to be respectful, just as they are to people of different races, ethnicities, religions, etc.
Are transgender staff members protected by law?
Specific protections vary from state to state and among local jurisdictions as well, but it is important to know that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm) federally protects people from discrimination by sex; and recently transgender people were ruled to be included in that protection. For more information, please see resources listed below.
The bottom line is, if you hire great people, trust that they will do a great job for your camp – transgender or not! For more information about transgender staff who may identify and present between or beyond typically male or female, please review our resources below.
- Anti-Discrimination Laws — Map by State, Transgender Law Center. transgenderlawcenter.org/equalitymap
- Anti-Discrimination Laws — Cities and Counties with Non-Discrimination Ordinances that Include Gender Identity. Human Rights Campaign. www.hrc.org/resources/entry/cities-and-counties-with-non-discrimination-ordinances-that-include-gender
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm
- Human Rights Campaign www.hrc.org
- National Center for Transgender Equality www.transequality.org
- Transgender Law Center www.transgenderlawcenter.org
- Transgender Legal and Defense Education Fund www.tldef.org
Nick Teich, LCSW, is the founder and president of Camp Aranu’tiq of Harbor Camps. Aranu’tiq is the world’s first camp exclusively for transgender and gender-variant youth, with locations in New Hampshire and California. Since childhood, Nick was a camper, CIT, counselor, and member of camp leadership at a private camp in Maine. Besides working year-round to prepare for and run camp programs, Nick is also a Ph.D candidate at Brandeis University. In 2012 he authored Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue (Columbia University Press). He has a deep personal interest in helping transgender youth to be themselves. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, Erika, and their two dogs.
Teich, N.M. (2012). Transgender 101. New York: Columbia University Press. “Terminology,” University of Minnesota Transgender Commission, March 11, 2008.