Being a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender teen can be an incredibly isolating experience. Your friends might not understand you and your parents might disown you (LGBT-identifying youth make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population). With the fear, rejection, and abuse constantly looming over their heads, it’s a crushing reality that lesbian, gay, and bisexual kids are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. But while hope may often feel scarce, one camp in southern California is working to turn the tide, helping LGBT kids not only accept and love themselves, but also turning them into leaders, so they can help others along the way.
Camp Brave Trails — which convenes for two sessions between August and June — is founded on the idea that the statistics mentioned above can change. They firmly believe that if kids who identify as LGBT are given resources, support, and access to adults they can trust, their “resilience and innovation” will shine through.
What’s special about the camp — besides the fact that its website prominently features a happy unicorn that would make any rational person want to join the fun — is that it offers both traditional camp activities (surprise dance parties, apparently, happen quite regularly) as well as workshops that focus on topics most important to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, including classes on queer identity and body positivity. Crash courses in LGBT history, drag make-up and performance, and discussions of how to fast track school clubs catering to the LGBT community round out the offerings.
“Camp is more than just a place to shoot arrows and sleep in a cabin, camp to me is family,” reads one testimonial from a former camper. “Camp Brave Trails is my home.” But it’s not just campers who get something out of the experience. As you can see in the video above, parents are also overjoyed to have their child come home after camp brimming with enthusiasm, new ideas, and, best of all, optimism. Campers don’t just learn how to survive, they come back knowing they have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide, and with the belief that they’re just as good as anyone else, regardless of what the cultural narrative tells them.
“Words cannot express what you’ve given Palie,” one parent writes. “You took a young adult and made him more himself. He felt like he belonged, like he’d found his tribe, like he was ‘normal’ for the first time. I sent you a fragile soul, and you sent me back a warrior.”