To: Camp Fire camp parents/caregivers
From: Nikki Roe Cropp, Director, Program Effectiveness
Dear current or prospective Camp Fire camp parent/caregiver:
Hi! We are so excited you are thinking about or already have enrolled your child in a Camp Fire camp this summer! Safety is likely forefront of your mind as you get ready to send your kiddo off to camp. As Camp Fire’s youth protection lead and a Camp Fire camper parent myself, I wanted to share some important information with you about what you can expect, specifically around gender and sexuality at camp.
You probably know by now that Camp Fire is inclusive; we openly support and affirm Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) people. We believe that each young person should have the opportunity to engage in the outdoors freely and safely. To do that, it’s our responsibility to promote a culture of equity and inclusion, free from discrimination and harassment. What does that mean for your kid’s camp experience? Various practices are implemented across our camps to provide safe and gender-inclusive environments. You will likely* see transgender, gender-expansive, or non-binary individuals at your Camp Fire camp—counselors, other camp staff, and campers. The camp may* choose to fly a pride flag during the month of June or display other visual support for the LGBTQ2S+ community. You may see gender-non-confirming bathrooms or all-gender housing options. Trans and non-binary campers will likely be put into a cabin in accordance with their identified gender and preferred cabin option. Group introductions will likely include the sharing of pronouns and preferred names and those will be respected. The camp likely has rules, policies, and guidelines that explicitly express non-tolerance for discrimination, harassment, and bullying based on gender or gender identity. AND the camp likely adheres to the recommended top abuse prevention practices in a camp setting (feel free to let me know if they don’t! 😊)
You may feel a bit hesitant about gender-inclusive cabins as so much of the camp experience has been historically gendered—with boy cabins on one side of camp, girl cabins on the other, and a lake in between. This is why if there is all-gender housing at your camp (likely for campers ages 10+), you and your kiddo will be asked to opt-in or out—it’s always your choice. We explain what gender-inclusive cabins are and stress that safety is a must, no matter what cabin configuration you are in.
In 2019, we asked campers what would make camp feel more welcoming and safer. Campers of all gender identities spoke out about the need for more privacy in bathrooms and cabins. Since then, Camp Fire has encouraged and supported its camps to invest in more private changing spaces for the comfort and safety of all campers and staff. So, while a camp may have gender-neutral showers and bathrooms, the expectation for all these spaces is for there to be increased privacy. The rules are the same for ALL bathrooms/showers: only one person in a stall at a time; only undress/dress in your private stall; be respectful of other’s privacy; leave as soon as you are done; and if you see or hear anything happening that makes you uncomfortable or is against the rules, go find and tell a counselor right away.
And just because your Camp Fire camp may have some or all of these gender-affirming practices in place, it does not mean that gender and sexuality are specifically embedded into the programming; they are not. We train our staff on how to navigate age-appropriate conversations and questions about sexuality and gender as they arise and only if they arise. The mission of Camp Fire is to connect young people to the outdoors, themselves, and others. Camp is a place where they can do just that—have fun, be themselves, try new things, and meet new people. As part of child safety and abuse prevention training, counselors are trained to maintain physical and emotional boundaries with campers. This includes not discussing sexual encounters; staff should not be talking to your kid about their sexual relationships or asking your kid about their sexual relationships. If they are, this is what we call a boundary or policy violation; all camp staff are trained to report these types of violations to their supervisor immediately. And supervisors are trained on how to respond.
We also train our staff, as part of their initial child abuse prevention training, on perpetrator behavior and the grooming process. We know that people who want to harm children seek out places like camp to gain access to children. That’s why we teach our staff common characteristics of child molesters and the process they use—called grooming—to gradually draw a victim into a sexual relationship. We go over the common behavior used in grooming because we can’t help prevent sexual abuse if we do not know how it occurs. The term “grooming” has been used illegitimately in recent times to mean people encouraging kids to be sex or gender-non-confirming, to “groom” their sexuality towards non-heterosexuality, or to be child molesters simply based on their identity alone. Not only are these misconceptions damaging to the LGBTQ2S+ community and others trying to build inclusive environments, but it undermines youth protection efforts. Real groomers and real perpetrators are the only ones who gain from this harmful narrative—because it diverts our attention off them as the real threat.
Camp Fire is committed to the safety and well-being of all children. Camp Fire is also committed to ensuring all camp staff, volunteers, and campers can express their gender expression or identity free from discrimination. These two commitments are not mutually exclusive—one does not void the other. In fact, we see them as being deeply dependent on each other if we truly want to create safe and inclusive camp experiences for all youth.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter! I’ve included some resources at the end of this letter if you want to learn more about gender inclusivity at camp and beyond. I also encourage you to check out our website where we have four videos for parents, guardians, and caregivers to learn more about child abuse prevention.
Wishing you and your kiddo a safe and happy summer!
*I say “likely” and “may” as each Camp Fire camp is unique; our affiliates have varying policies and practices in place based on the needs of their local community and capacity.
- Camp Fire Minnesota; All Gender Cabins
- Gender Spectrum; Gender Inclusive Camps: A Webinar for Camp Professionals
- Gender Spectrum; Gender Support Plan
- American Camp Association; “Summer Camp for All: Serving the Need of Trans Campers”
- Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools: Gender Support Checklist for Transgender and Non-Binary Students