By Jay Smith
What makes a welcoming camp environment?
Keshet spoke with Rena Kantor (they/she), a 15 year-old participant in our youth programming from the Detroit Metro Area, about their experiences at summer camps.
Keshet: What have your summer camp experiences been like?
Rena: This is my third year at Camp Ramah Wisconsin. It’s a really nice camp, everyone there is so nice and inclusive and welcoming. The weather can be a little bit tough sometimes, but that’s the only downside! It was different from other camps I have been to in the past.
Keshet: What was different about other camps?
Rena: Other camps I have been to have not been as inclusive. People were not outwardly homophobic, but there were backhanded comments and teasing to anybody who came out as queer. There have been times I didn’t come out because I was worried what other people would think of me.
Keshet: How is it different at Wisconsin?
Rena: At every single new activity with every single new person, they ask pronouns. And every Saturday, right before dinner, for an hour, queer people can meet and just talk together and just have a fun time. It’s in a very secluded, private space, so people who are still in the closet can go. It’s just a really inclusive, nice space and I feel like I can talk to anyone there.
Keshet: What has that done for you, being in a space that has been so much more inclusive?
Rena: It was just so much nicer to feel like, “Oh, I can be myself, no limitations.” And I feel like I can be myself without getting made fun of. It just feels better to be there.
Keshet: What advice would you have for people who want to do better but don’t know where to start?
Rena: I would start with something small, just like asking pronouns during initial introductions of anything. It may seem small, but it can be really big in somebody’s heart. And if you’re working for a summer camp or a school, make private space for queer youth to talk to each other so that there’s no fear of getting made fun of. Something else that Camp Ramah Wisconsin also does is a Pride Kiddush every June! We have learning experiences and rainbow food, obviously,
Rena: So that’s always really fun.
Keshet: Those are really great recommendations. Is there anything more you wanted to say about your experience?
Rena: I just wish that everybody could feel comfortable at camp. That would be amazing.
Keshet: Yes, it would.
Make your summer camp a space of belonging for youth like Rena! To meet the growing demand among summer camps to develop LGBTQ-affirming communities, Keshet is offering a pilot program to allow camps to access self-facilitated staff training materials for LGBTQ belonging at camp. Learn more and apply here.