How to Create a Safe Space for LGBTQ Campers

Posted by: Safaya Fawzi

Let’s look at the numbers. Across the country, there are approximately 950,000 children and teens enrolled in YMCA summer camps. There are ten times that many U.S. adults—9 million—who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

These statistics may suggest that at least one child enrolled in any given summer camp, has a relative or primary caregiver who identifies as LGBTQ. And perhaps, at least one youth enrolled in your community’s summer camp currently identifies—or in the future may identify—as LGBTQ.

A more sobering fact for youth development professionals everywhere: research reveals 30% of LGBTQ youths have attempted suicide.

So how can we, as youth development professionals, create a safe and welcoming environment for all children and teens? And how can we better equip our staff to be educated and aware of all communities, including LGBTQ communities?

Here are nine recommendations:

1. Recognize that every child is unique in their self-identities, across all dimensions of diversity. No two people are exactly the same. Our perspectives and experiences are influenced by how we identify—and we are ever-changing as we age, grow, and develop. This is especially true for children.

                                               From Implementing Diversity ©1996. Irwin Professional Publishing.
                           The Diversity Wheel is adapted from Marilyn Loden’s chart in her book “Implementing Diversity.”

2. Be an ally. Support and celebrate openly LGBTQ staff, youth and families.

3. Work to confound gender-based assumptions regarding toys, activities, and attire. Use gender-neutral language and invite all children to participate in all activities. Avoid assuming that boys prefer to play sports and girls prefer to make arts-and-crafts.

4. Ensure all campers and staff have access to the facilities aligned with their gender identity and comfort, within facility and resource limitations.

5. Provide training opportunities to foster education, awareness and knowledge-building related to LGBTQ communities and best practices for inclusion.

6. Use gender neutral (or preferred) pronouns when referencing guardians/parents, partners, families and significant others. When creating registration forms, camper communications and other messaging, consider that not every camper is raised in the same type of home. Being sensitive to language and aiming to respect the way individuals self-identify is a critical step to becoming an inclusive camp.

7. Lift up stories of LGBTQ inclusion in trainings, marketing and camp activities. Do your camp marketing or training materials include people from all walks of life, including same-sex couples, families and transgender individuals?

8. Celebrate Pride Month! June is the official month, but pride can be celebrated year-round! Communicate early and often that your camp is a safe space for LGBTQ youth, families and communities.

9. Build partnerships with local organizations that serve the LGBTQ community, such as houses of worship, health care centers and educational institutions. These relationships may provide support beyond the scope of Y services, and also help your staff become more educated and welcoming over time.

At the Y, we believe that in a diverse world, we are stronger when we are inclusive and our doors are open to all—this includes LGBTQ identified individuals and communities.

Looking for more tips and support?

For more information on the Dimensions of Diversity wheel, or tips on creating safe spaces for all youth, contact the YMCA’s Diversity & Inclusion team.

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The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.