That's Camp with a Q, LGBTQ Kids Outdoors

  • Kayak races on Cheat Lake are part of Qamp Olympics. Photo: Kara Holsopple

  • Camps for LGBTQ youth provide a safe space for kids to explore nature, and find each other. Photo: Courtesy Dreams of Hope

September 1, 2012  
Updated July 13, 2013

What's your favorite summer camp memory? Maybe it's canoeing on the lake or hiking with your new best friends. For kids who identify as LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or "questioning"—that kind of letting loose may not be an option. There are few summer camps where LGBTQ kids find nature and each other.

A camp held on Cheat Lake in West Virginia is for gay and transgender kids and kids with same sex parents. Dreams of Hope, a Pittsburgh-based performance group for LGBTQ youth and allies runs the overnight camp.

During "Qamp Olympics", three teams of campers swim, canoe, and kayak for the gold. Camper Reyghan Pierce, 16, strategizes how to stick an arrow in the bull's eye of the huge roll of hay across from her.  She's playing for the Queerios.

"Well, I guess I shoot to the right, so I aim to the left—and down, cause it always goes to high. So I'm trying to like, make up for it," she says. When she shoots, the kids cheer.

Pierce says this camp is a breath of fresh air from the other summer camps she's attended. "The other camp I go to is like very—they're very homophobic. It's like sort of scary, just like, cause you're afraid you'll slip up or something. Here is like a really nice community--I like it a lot. Really safe," says Pierce.

Archery is a favorite among the 12 campers this year, says 19-year-old counselor-in-training Antonio Fernandes, "We make believe we're in the zombie apocalypse and the Hunger Games all at the same time. It's really friendly competition and sportsmanship. And it's so good—we cheer each other on, even if we miss. It's like, yay, you made a dent in the fence. It's awesome."

Fernandes says he felt pigeon-holed as a kid when it came to playing outdoors. "I did not grow up with guy friends, so I was always with the girls and it was always jump rope—things that you would assume a woman would do. When in fact my entire life I have loved sports. Right now it's like, I'm kind of catching up."

Qamp director Brad Mumpower says this camp gives LGBTQ kids a chance to have the same summer camp experience as anyone else. And they need it. Not only are they less likely to join team sports, they have a more compelling reason to stay plugged in, inside, than some other kids.

"If you don't live in a city where you have a gay youth group, then you may not see another queer kid, and so the only way to talk to your peers is to do it online," said Mumpower.

Fourteen-year-old camper Erika Ridenour agrees. "Sometimes I think that people are going to make fun of me if I do something wrong—I think about that a lot, actually—I don't know why," she laughed.

She's glad she's doing it at this camp, where her fingernails each can be painted a different color of the rainbow. "There's people like me here, so I feel a little bit better," she said.