Gay teens find refuge at summer camp

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It is an American rite-of-passage familiar anyone who watches The Simpsons – summer camp. There are fat camps, Jewish camps, girls-only camps, NASA space camps.

Now gay and lesbian teens are being offered the opportunity to spend the summer by a lake with like-minded peers.

As well as the usual activities such as crafts, campfires and kayaking, LGBT teens have sessions discussing the problems that face them back in the real world.

The Camping-OUT programme which finishes today in Northern Michigan, is one of six scattered across the USA.

The camp aims to provide a supportive atmosphere for teenagers, many of whom suffer constant abuse from fellow pupils at school.

Speaking to The Detroit Free Press, 17-year-old Travis explained how being openly gay at high school is no picnic: “I don’t go to football games,” he said.

“I’ve gotten threats to be beaten up if I show my face there.”

There are almost half a million Americans between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, so even a conservative estimate would translate into 50,000 LGBT teens.

Yet the tiny amount of summer camps for gay teens are under threat from fundamentalist Christians who regard the existence of LGBT people as an offence against their god.

Also under attack are Straight-Gay alliances at high schools, where students of all sexualities come together to protect the rights and safety of all. Over 80 of these organisations exist, yet there are weekly reports of school boards and administrators trying to block them for being ‘sex-related.’

Gary Glenn is president of the American Family Association of Michigan, a Christian organization. His attitude to the camps is typical:

“If we truly care about their [gay teenager’s] health and well-being, we as a society should discourage them from participating in self-destructive behaviour, not holding special camps validating their sexuality.”

For the fortunate teens in Michigan, their time in the sun is coming to an end. The people ranged against their very existence will be something they have to deal with when they get home.