Participants at the first-ever B.C. Camp Fyrefly will experience workshops taught through a “queer lens,” organizers say – photo by Tim Kerr
UBC Reports | Vol. 55 | No. 7 | July 2, 2009
By Sean Sullivan
UBC research is helping to put a new spin on the typical youth summer camp.
Between July 2 and 5, 50 youth will join peer leaders and adult volunteers at an island retreat in Howe Sound for the first-ever B.C. Camp Fyrefly.
The camp is an outdoor leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, Two-Spirit, queer, intersex and allied (LGBTTQI&A) youth between the ages of 14 and 24.
Camp Fyrefly started at the University of Alberta in 2004, and has since spread to Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and now B.C.
The camp’s success in other provinces is partly because it meshes an outdoor camp with a social intervention, says organizer Rod Knight of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health.
“We’re talking about gender norms with a group of kids who probably don’t talk about sexuality in their communities,” he says.
The participants are coming from 31 communities across B.C., and often from areas with no specific outreach for sexual minority youth. Knight, who has previously volunteered at the Alberta camp, says it can be an eye-opening experience for people who have felt isolated or discriminated against.
“I’ve seen a lot of youth coming from a really remote community, and they’ll say to us, ‘I’ve never seen a gay person before. I’m the only one I know,’” he says.
“It can be a very emancipating for them.”
Through drama, dance, painting and writing, as well as interactive workshops, the participants can explore and articulate the complex personal, safety, legal and health issues they face as sexual minority individuals, Knight explains.
The workshops centre on four themes: arts and performance, health and sexuality, health and sustainable living, and leadership skills.
These workshops are taught through a “queer lens,” says Knight. For example, one of the leadership workshops will teach strategies for founding a high school’s gay-straight alliance, which is a student organization intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBTTQI students.
“If we give these youth the networks and resources to go to their school administrators, and show these clubs are a normal practice, they can tell the people in charge, ‘This is about social justice,’ ” he says.
The camp is also an opportunity to use UBC research to target specific needs amongst LGBTTQI youth.
“We know these youth are experiencing significant sexual health inequities, compared to their heterosexual peers,” says Knight.
For example, a 2008 study by Elizabeth Saewyc, an associate professor at the School of Nursing, found gay, lesbian and bisexual teens in British Columbia are at a higher risk of pregnancy because of discrimination, sexual abuse and harassment compared to heterosexual teens.
“They’re also far more likely to have thoughts of suicide and more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection,” adds Knight.
Through group discussions led by peers, as well as workshops led by legal experts, sexual health professionals and addictions counselors, the participants will go home with a lot more than just good memories.
“We want them to go back to their communities and have not only the skills they’ve learned, but also this vast network of experts and friends,” he says.
“These youth will leave with sense of pride, and a willingness to step up and enact change.”