A Camp for 2SLGBTQ+ ages 12-17 Welcome Friend Association's Rainbow Camp® is a camp for young people who are 2 spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer questioning (2SLGBTQ+) and allied youth, their siblings and children in Queer families. WFA's Rainbow Camp® is committed to developing a camp community which honours creativity, individual choice, and social justice while having fun! WFA's Rainbow Camp® provides opportunities for campers to make new friends and develop skills through traditional camp programming and innovative curriculum. More than anything, our Rainbow Camp® is a fun place to come OUT and be yourself!
A Camp for 2SLGBTQ+ ages 12-17
Welcome Friend Association's Rainbow Camp® is a camp for young people who are 2 spirited, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer questioning (2SLGBTQ+) and allied youth, their siblings and children in Queer families. WFA's Rainbow Camp® is committed to developing a camp community which honours creativity, individual choice, and social justice while having fun!
WFA's Rainbow Camp® provides opportunities for campers to make new friends and develop skills through traditional camp programming and innovative curriculum. More than anything, our Rainbow Camp® is a fun place to come OUT and be yourself!
My daughter enjoyed her week at camp...called it “life changing”!! Thank you to all the staff and team!! You are greatly appreciated!
Rainbow Camp’s philosophy is that LGBTQ2+ young adults can live the change they want to see in the world.
“I was afraid my son would commit suicide. Then he went to Rainbow Camp and came back happier than I had ever seen him. I believe Rainbow Camp® saved his life. Thank you!”
I’ve been going to rainbow camp for 2 years and it is amazing! I've not only made friends, I’ve made family. I feel so accepted when I go and I can have a hate free week with loving Counselors and caring friends. Thanks Chris and Harry! Can’t wait to come back next year :)
I couldn’t have asked for a better, safer place. Camp was a life changing experience and I can’t wait to come back I cried like a baby when I left cause I had to leave all my new amazing friends.
My first dance that I was able to be myself.
Harry Stewart, Founder
From CBC news:
"The biggest change was the amount of trans kids that we have," says camp founder Harry Stewart. "We've gone from just having a couple to last week, I'd say it was about 95 to 98 per cent trans."
Stewart created the camp because he wishes there had been a place like it when he grew up in nearby Thessalon, Ont.
As a gay man still living in that small town he remains acutely aware of how hard it is to come out and to be out.
"A lot of our campers are really looking for love and respect. … I mean, we're only 50 miles away from Sault Ste. Marie, and my husband and I, we don't hold hands anywhere. It just doesn't feel safe. So, I just look at these kids and think, for them it's got to be that much harder."A homemade rainbow flag flies at Rainbow Camp on Lake Huron.(CBC)
The increase in transgender campers, Stewart says, may be due to more awareness in general about being transgender and, although there are other camps for LGBT teens in Canada, this is the only one that focuses on the kids having fun.
Sure, there's swimming and canoeing and bog runs, but not much else is typical. Campers are assigned to cabins by age, not gender. Same goes for bathrooms.
And then there are activities like Grave Digging, where they can bury their former gender identities, and Makeup with Mya, a makeup lesson with a drag queen from Toronto. It's an extraordinary opportunity to step further into an emerging identity or simply try one on
Dawson Rumley, 19, a former camper and now a counsellor in training, says the camp helped him embrace the fact that he is gay.
In five short days he sees kids transformed. "They came into camp with a name and left with a new name, new identity," says Rumley. "They find a safe space to do it here. Everyone has the ability to try out new names and different names."
Safe space is a mantra here, and a much-needed one. Many of the campers struggle with anxiety and depression.
Then there's the typical adolescent stuff all teenagers go through.'Here it's like the norm to be whoever you are and however you want to express yourself,' says Lilith Wall, 13.(CBC)
At this point in her life, 13-year-old Lilith Wall identities as a bisexual female, but her body image fluctuates.
"Because everyone else seems so perfect, right? So you think everyone else is thinking about you whenever you do something, right?" says Wall. "The reality is that everyone is too busy thinking about themselves to think about you."
Wall says she can't take for granted the sense of acceptance she finds at the camp. At the camp's annual Rainbow Dance, Wall joins the rest of the campers letting loose to wildly popular songs like Despacito. It's the first time many can express themselves this freely, the first time they are simply going to a dance with their peers, as themselves.
"At home, yeah it's a little iffy and definitely outside," says Wall. "I feel like people are going to look at me for wearing like, wacky colours of makeup, but here it's like the norm to be whoever you are and however you want to express yourself."
Shedding a 'dead name'
For Max, shedding his "dead name," Mary Alice, has been a journey that's often left him anxious. This is the second time he's come to Rainbow Camp, which he calls a lifeline.
"A lot of these kids, like they could be the only out or the only queer kid in their school, that they know of. … We're all bonded by that one thing. And from there, we're able to just form these experiences together. … Within one week, people become your family."
Demand is high because of the camp's fun focus and because it is relatively affordable.
Fundraising holds down the cost
Last year's fundraising efforts raised $150,000 and allowed the camp to offer three one-week sessions for the first time. The money not only holds the cost of a session to $350, it also covers the cost for campers who can't afford it. The hope is to raise enough money to add a third week next year.
In the campers' closeness in exchanges and in group activities, the hunger for a sense of belonging is evident.
So is the joy in finding it. Stewart's eyes well up as he talks about it.
"It makes it all worthwhile, you know, the hours that we put in trying to make camp successful, to get the funding. … I would like to say they're changing their lives."
He concludes, "You know, we are making a difference."
Cost: $450 /week
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Scholarships & awards:
My foster son has attended WFA’s Rainbow Camp for two years in a row. Due to his financial situation, this
would not have been possible for him without the kind donations of strangers and the diligent work of Harry Stewart and his team.
It is not easy for a “straight” person to understand what it is like to live in a mostly heterosexual society as a person who is either LGBTQ or gender-non-conforming. However, the day that I went to pick up my child from WFA’s Rainbow Camp, I saw such a change in him that for the first time I had a glimpse into the enormity of his struggle to “fit into” regular society. He came off that plane positively glowing — and so did his new friends. It was as if a weight had been lifted from him. He had had a week of being positively, freely and uncompromisingly himself.
Nobody at WFA’s Rainbow Camp tried to label or pigeonhole him. He could just be. At the same time, he received wonderful training in how to “be” in the world at large. All teaching was based on respect — not just about demanding respect, but also about showing respect. There was no “victim” mentality passed onto him, but rather a celebration of individuality and an ethos of respect built on mutual acceptance. At the same time, he was taught strategies to deal with what can at times be a cruel world.
I am so grateful for him that he has had this opportunity. I hope that he will have this opportunity again. I can uncompromisingly say that WFA’s Rainbow Camp has changed his life, built his self-esteem and given him a place in this world. Thank you for making this possible.
My name is Brandon Fiedler, I am 20 years old and I attended WFA’s Rainbow Camp in 2013. Ever since I was four years old I knew something wasn’t right about me. I was always wearing guy’s clothes, doing guy things and I hated any moment of my childhood where I needed to be a girl. I always felt and wanted to be a boy, but because I
was born in a female body I thought I could never truly be myself.
Around grade six or seven, I became very angry and depressed because I couldn’t truly be myself. I started to hit puberty and my body was getting more uncomfortable for me. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, got kicked out of school and had lots of family issues to the point where I was put in the care of Children’s Aid in 2010 when I was around the age of fifteen. I ended up getting a lot worse due to the environment of living in a group home and living with kids with similar issues as me. One thing no one knew about me was my deepest secret: I was a male trapped in a
Eventually, due to my anger, I ended up moving eleven times within the year as no one could help me and understand why I was so upset and angry. In 2011, I ended up in a group home called the Iris Program in Durham Region, and it was pretty much my last chance to succeed. The placement before that I tried to come out as being male, but they were not accepting to the point where staff beat me up and locked me in rooms. When I moved to Iris, I ignored the fact that I was actually a male, but then after living there for a year I knew I had to come out of myself to be happy. In 2012,
I came out as Brandon. It was extremely hard for me due to past experiences of bullying, but I knew it was the thing I needed to do to finally be happy.When I turned eighteen, my name was legally changed to Brandon. In the summer of 2013, I went to WFA’s Rainbow Camp. I heard about WFA’s Rainbow Camp through my Children’s Aid worker
Susan. She told me about this camp and I was very excited until she told me one thing: I had to take a plane to Sault Ste. Marie. In 2012, I never went out or hung out with friends and pretty much stayed in my room all day on the computer, so for me to even go outside was a huge thing, and to even think I was going to go to Sault Ste. Marie
was a whole other story. My staff at Iris eventually convinced me to go to camp.
When I got to the airport all of the kids from camp were waiting outside for everyone to arrive. Everyone was extremely friendly and I felt welcomed right away. We became really close very quickly...we were that very loud group in the airport that wouldn’t stop laughing and being loud. When we got off the plane, the staff was there right away to greet us, and was so nice and made us feel really comfortable.
When I first got to camp I got really homesick because I was never so far away by myself before, but to be honest I wasn’t by myself. Everyone made sure I was ok and felt welcomed at camp. They made me feel like I could talk to them whenever I was feeling down or just home sick. We were never bored at camp and were always on the go.
There were many activates and games for all of us and everyone had a blast. We got to make tie dye shirts, bracelets, go swimming, play games, dance, sing, campfires and more. Everyone was accepting of everyone and no questions were asked. We also learned lots of great things about LGBTQ, and I became very educated while there. I got to meet other kids like me who were going through similar struggles, and we were able to connect, which was nice because I didn’t feel like I was alone. The meals were absolutely amazing and we were very spoiled.
When camp was over, I didn’t want to leave because honestly WFA’s Rainbow Camp felt like a family to me. For once in my life I felt comfortable and could truly be myself. The staff and even the youth taught me it’s ok to be yourself and there are so many great pals in the world that love and care about you. When I came home from WFA’s Rainbow Camp I was waiting for an appointment for me to start hormone treatment.
Going back to Iris and waiting for this was a struggle for me. I became very depressed as I was back to reality living with rude kids. I was happy I got to keep in contact with all the kids from camp as I made a Facebook group for all of us to keep connected, help each other out when we were having a bad day or just to be our silly selves. Whenever I was having a bad day I could just go right onto the Facebook group and everyone would make sure I was ok even though some of them were four to five hours away from me. WFA’s Rainbow Camp is a home away from home. I always think about it. I sometimes wish it was a group home and I could live there.
In October 2013, I started my hormone treatment and in January 2014 I got my female to male double incision top surgery. As I turned nineteen, I had to move out of my group home and live on my own, which was extremely hard due to bullying, helping my friend whose father was dying and my own personal issues and being alone. I got very depressed and suicidal to the point where I overdosed on 40 Adderall. It was a scary and dark time for me, but WFA’s Rainbow Camp helped me get back on my feet, as did some of my old staff from Iris. I remember how much they loved me and how they were truly important pals in my life so I made a change. I found myself my own apartment, got a job, went back to high school and will be graduating in June. I am going to college in January 2016 to become a child and youth worker, and I am also a guest speaker and performer about my story being in care as a transgendered youth.
WFA’s Rainbow Camp helped me learn that it’s ok to truly be yourself. They helped me boostmy confidence a lot. I would never think I would be guest speaking and trying to help and giveadvice to youth who are going through similar struggles. WFA’s Rainbow Camp is such an amazing experience and I was so upset I couldn’t make it for 2014. I am really excited for the 2015 year of camp and I’m hopefully coming to camp as a counsellor this year. If you are thinking about bringing your kid to WFA’s Rainbow Camp, you definitely should as it helped me for the better. I am so excited to see everyone’s faces, both old and new, and make new memories. WFA’s Rainbow Camp taught me that things do get better.
“Dear Rainbow friends, peers, staff, andsupporters,
I have been a camper for the past two years and hope to go to WFA’s Rainbow Camp again! I have had a blast at camp and know I will, once again, have an amazing experience with the amazing people there! Some of the reasons I wish to return include:
1. The support was absolutely amazing! I felt a ton of weight lifted off of my shoulders. I had the freedom to be who I really am.
2. The small cabin group discussions with Deb really opened up my mind about myself and others.
3. I was able to figure out more about myself in terms of sexuality, gender and identity. I love the support from staff and campers both! Everyone is there to support you as friends (rainbow family) and in choosing your own identity.
4. I love the feeling of helping others and others helpingyou on the path of gay rights, transgenders and other ways to identify yourself. People support you and accept you, and they really care!”
Note: The camper ended the letter by quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “He once said he wished for people to be judged by their character, not the color of their skin.” We too wish people could be judged by their character and not by their sexuality. At WFA’s Rainbow Camp, people really do care, and these are the ones who can change the world to be a better place!