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Getting campy: Girls use the costume closet to get dressed up for a camp activity.

Photo: Philip Reames

Triangle Foundation
Detroit, Mich.
(313) 537-7000

Objective: Give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth a safe and unique opportunity to participate in a traditional summer camp and learn how to become leaders in their communities.

In a Nutshell: Camping.OUT is overseen by Detroit’s Triangle Foundation, which serves LGBT people throughout Michigan. The camp provides outdoor activities and leadership development training for teens in a typical summer sleepover camp atmosphere. Campers help decide on the activities, such as kayaking, drama and arts classes, ultimate Frisbee and campfires.

Where and When It Happens: At a licensed youth camp in northern Michigan. Triangle put the first camp together last August. It plans to operate one session this year and to offer more sessions in 2008.

Who Started It and Who Runs It: The concept for the camp was proposed by the foundation’s youth committee, and then developed by Triangle’s director of youth initiatives, Greg Varnum, who has several years of experience with youth camps and youth-led organizing. Varnum recruits about a dozen counselors to help run the camp, as well as four kitchen staffers.

Overcoming Obstacles: “Unfortunately, programs involving LGBT youth are sometimes [targeted] by anti-LGBT organizations, so there were safety and security concerns,” Varnum says. Triangle developed safety protocols to be implemented before and during camp; they include not disclosing the exact location of the camp to the general public and making sure the youths wear unique name tags to identify them as participants.

Cost: The budget for Camping.OUT, which does not include Triangle Foundation staff time, is $30,000.

Who Pays: Campers pay registration fees of $525 for a week of camp. Some get partial or complete scholarships through the Generation.OUT Scholarship Fund. The fund has been built mostly by individual contributions, as well as community foundations. The National Youth Advocacy Coalition, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Matthew Shepard Foundation are helping to raise scholarship funds.

Youth Served: Up to 50 youths, ages 13 to 17, can attend this summer.

Youth Turn-On: “Many LGBT youth do not feel safe at traditional summer camps because of bullying or harassment from campers and camp administrators,” Varnum says. “Camping.OUT provides them with a safe space to be themselves and not be afraid of discrimination based on their sexual orientation.”

Youth Turn-Off: Spending a week in the middle of the woods with no electricity.

What Still Gets in the Way: Raising scholarship funds “is always a concern, and marketing the program on a national level has proven to be a challenge,” Varnum says.

Also, he says that “some of the applicants have parents who are unwilling to pay for their children to go to a LGBT camp, even though they will give permission for them to go.”