How Can Camps Support Transgender Youth?

November 10, 2016
Ann Gillard, PhD
Camper smiling at camera

What does "transgender" mean? 
Transgender or trans* are umbrella terms referring to all of the diverse identities in the gender spectrum. For transgender individuals, their gender identity (the gender they experience themselves to be) does not match what society expects based on the sex category to which they were assigned at birth. Some transgender individuals experience their gender identity to instead match the “opposite” sex category, such as an individual assigned male at birth but who comes to realize an internal sense of being female. This individual might at some point in life decide to “transition” – whether socially, surgically, medically, or some combination of these – to synchronize the gender identity with the appearance and expression. Other transgender individual have gender identities that they cannot accurately describe as either male or female and present an ambiguous or fluid gender presentation. The asterisk (*) in trans* represents one common root word for an infinitely diverse variety of identities.

How do I know which label a camper prefers? 
Always use the term preferred by the individual.

We want to ask campers which pronouns they use, but it seems awkward. What can we do?
During a getting-to-know-you circle, you could ask campers to share 1-2 things they want the group to know about them, such as what pronouns you use or if you have trouble sleeping in new places, etc. Role modeling by adult staff is important to set the tone and provide appropriate examples.

What should we do about our application forms and medical forms?
Provide open-ended questions such as “Gender?” and “Is there anything we should know about your child?”

We don’t have gender-neutral bathrooms or changing areas and can’t afford to build any. What can we do?
Consider re-designating one or more bathrooms in well-trafficked areas as open to anyone. Ensure that changing areas provide many options for privacy, such as secure curtains or doors.

A camper came to our camp for years as a girl. Now he’s identifying as a boy and wants to come back. What should we do?
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Ask him and his parents/caregivers how they would like their son and the camp to handle questions that might come up with other campers who knew him before, who they think should know this information, and how camp can best support him. Treat the camper as you would any other boy in your camp.

We’re worried about angry parent/caregiver calls if they find out their child was in a cabin with someone who’s transgender. Is there any language you can suggest?
The best defense is a good offence. Put language in your camper information materials and communications about being an inclusive and affirming camp. This gives you something to refer to if a parent/caregiver disagrees with your policies and practices. You might lose that one parent/caregiver by sticking with your principles, but you could gain many more who support your approach.

Overall, what areas of our camp should we look at to be inclusive and affirming of trans* campers?

  1. Policies, mission, goals
  2. Communications, marketing, FAQs, website
  3. Camp staff training and support
  4. Camp operations, facilities, programming

This is a new area for me, but I really want to learn more so I can do the right thing to help trans* campers. Where can I go?

ACA articles

Books

  • Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents (2011) by Irwin Krieger
  • The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals (2008) by Stephanie A. Bril
  • Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue (2012) by Nicholas M. Teich

Websites

Ann Gillard, PhD, has worked in camps for over 20 years, including as a day and resident camp counselor, camp director, researcher, and evaluator. Ann is currently the chair of ACA’s Committee for the Advancement of Research and Evaluation (CARE). She is grateful for all of the teachers in her life. Contact Ann at anngillard@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Nick Teich, founder and president of Camp Aranu'tiq of Harbor Camps. 

 How Can Camps Support Transgender Youth 

 

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