After its fourth year running, Camp Aurora, Manitoba’s only camp specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer and allied youth, has left campers wanting more – in the best possible way.
Jonny Sopotiuk and Jennifer Davis volunteered in 2006 at Camp fYrefly in Edmonton, Canada’s only national leadership retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, intersexed, queer, questioning and allied youth.
Sopotiuk and Davis, both prominent members of the LGBT* community and current members of the Camp Aurora Steering Committee, knew it was something they wanted to bring home.
The duo gathered together with members of the queer community, teamed up with Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre (RRC), did some fundraising and made it a success.
Between Aug. 24-27 this year, campers aged 14-21 participated in the four-day personal exploration through workshops, outdoor activities, creative arts and skill-building activities tackling topics like dealing with diversity, body image and healthy relationships.
This year’s biggest change was moving the camp from Manitou to Camp Brereton in the Whiteshell Provincial Park.
In an attempt to shift the focus from societal definitions to self-development, one feature of the camp is that all the washrooms at the camp were labelled as “gender neutral.”
“We try not to reinforce the gender binary,” said Fiona Jackson, one of the camp’s organizers. “We want the same level of comfort for everybody … concentrate on building ourselves, our self-esteem, making sure the environment is safe and comfortable for each individual is very important.”
Camp Aurora provides an option for queer and allied youth who might not feel safe going to the variety of summer camps offered to youth in Manitoba.
Heather Milne is an assistant professor in the University of Winnipeg’s English faculty. She participates in the U of W’s Institute for Women and Gender Studies and believes the main reason for the discomfort is that there is enough support for queer and allied youth within the school systems.
“In (a) university it’s a more open and accepting environment – the high school system particularly in Manitoba has a long way to go,” she said.
Milne noted that she feels that it’s very important for young people to feel comfortable with their sexuality and who they are.
One way Camp Aurora helps youth do so is to provide a space where they are taught to love themselves and share things that they may not have been able to share before comfortably with people they can trust.
“We call each other our second family,” said Amanda Roncin, a 23-year-old camper. “It’s a sanctuary.”
Roncin explained that camp is a nurturing place for people who might not get the support from their own families or peers. Since camp has concluded, the campers have been able to stay in touch through Facebook, hang out through RRC’s youth programs and make plans for next year’s camp.
Lauren McIvor, a 16-year-old camper, describes the camp as an open place that gives people the opportunity to show who they are.
“No matter how you identify yourself, you’re open to let loose (and) be who you want to be,” she said.
Published in Volume 65, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 9, 2010)