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Supporting Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth at Summer Camp

Ann Gillard, Erin E. Buzuvis, M. Deborah Bialeschki


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: With increasing visibility of the transgender population, and with more people openly identifying as transgender and expressing their gender nonconformity at younger ages, it is inevitable that camp administrators and staff will face the issue of inclusion of transgender campers at some point. Given that transgender and gender nonconforming youth tend to experience profound difficulties during the school year, camp can be a potential setting for positive youth development for these youth. Many professionals in camps and other recreation settings are increasingly aware of this population’s varying needs and the potential positive development found within the camp experience, yet could benefit from additional tools to consider using in their camp programs. The purpose of this article is to discuss how camps can provide supports and opportunities for positive youth development for transgender and gender nonconforming youth. By examining research about gender identity formation and transgender youth in other contexts such as school and community agencies, we draw conceptual links between these studies and the summer camp literature, culminating in an overview of recommendations and strategies for people in camps aiming to be inclusive and supportive of transgender and gender nonconforming youth. We provide suggestions for management practices to support inclusion of transgender campers, and list resources for further information. Recommendations for practice include discussion of the areas of camp-level policies, communications, camp staff, and camp operations (e.g., health and programming). Camps have the opportunity and flexibility to support the participation of transgender and gender nonconforming campers by making programming and policy decisions that promote positive development for all youth. In light of increasing awareness of gender-based harassment and abuse and the developmental needs of transgender youth, it is important that camps recognize how they can provide youth a safe place from these pressures and risks as they learn and practice skills to become resilient. 


Summer camp; management; transgender; gender; youth; counselors

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