July, 2013 / Author:

In ancient Roman mythology, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn, renewing herself every morning and flying across the sky to herald the arrival of the sun. Aurora the goddess is mentioned in Shakespeare, Tennyson and Thoreau. She’s also an important visitor in Manitoba every summer when the promised lighting up of darkness represented by the goddess is incorporated into Camp Aurora, an annual GLBT youth camp established in 2007.

Now about to enter its sixth year, Camp Aurora is a place for GLBT youth to meet for fun, friendship, education, and counselling. Above all, it’s a place where they can feel safe and be their authentic selves with like-minded people. You might say that it chases the shadows of homophobia away. It’s a chance to connect, learn a lot and make what can become lifelong friendships. 

The camp will run Aug. 27 to 30 at Camp Brereton in the Whiteshell Provincial Park. According to Rainbow Resource Centre youth programs co-ordinator and Camp Aurora organizer Jared Star, the camp is targeted at GLBT youth aged 14 to 19 and there is room for 43, with an additional 10 peer youth counsellors aged 20 to 26.

The camp is offered at a deeply discounted cost of $25, though Star said the camp costs $250 or more per person and organizers rely on grants and individual supporters. “We encourage people to support opening up a place for a young person to attend,” he says. “The community has been generous in the past and we also receive financial support from the Winnipeg Foundation, Youth in Philanthropy, Rainbow Resource Centre, Healthy Child Manitoba and the Assiniboine Credit Union.” Donors get a tax receipt for any amount over $10.

Camp Aurora was modelled on Edmonton’s Camp fYrefly, which began in 2004. This year, the Alberta camp will take place July 11 to 14 in Cochrane, Alberta. It runs as a partnership with the University of Alberta and the Calgary Sexual Health Centre. Like Camp Aurora, it caters to around 40 GLBT youth and costs them just $25.

Five years ago, Camp fYrefly also spread to Saskatchewan and this year a camp will be held in Saskatoon from August 15 to 18. That camp alternates annually between Saskatoon and Regina. Many of the campers, aged 14 to 24, come from northern or rural areas where being “out” is a challenge. The camp offers a safe place and some campers have later gone back to their home towns and started a Gay-Straight Alliance in their school. The Saskatchewan camp, like the others, is designed to instil confidence and foster leadership skills. It is supported by the University of Regina’s faculty of education and by the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan.

The original Edmonton Camp fYrefly was set up by Dr. André P. Grace and Dr. Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta, to empower GLBT youth to become agents of change in their schools, families and communities. 

At Manitoba’s Camp Aurora, every effort is made to make campers feel welcome and at ease, with gender-neutral washrooms and a rainbow flag raised each morning. 

For many queer teenagers, meeting new people at GLBT camps causes initial anxiety, but by the end many have formed new friendships and gained confidence and leadership skills. Socializing occurs through various group activities, including bonfires, sing-alongs, a dance party, canoeing, outdoor games, talent shows and workshops.

After last year’s camp, the 44 participants set up their own Facebook page to stay in touch. One person wrote, “What I liked most about Camp Aurora was being able to be myself for the first time with others and in a big group of people.”

Star, who will attend his first camp this year, says Camp Aurora helps build a community spirit and for some, it’s the first chance they’ve had to come out to a peer group. “Many of the friendships formed last long after the camp and we have also had participants feel empowered enough to check out the resource centre and become volunteers,” he adds.

The deadline for applying to Camp Aurora is July 15. Cost is just $25 but that fee can be waived in cases of economic hardship. Check our www.campaurora.ca for more information.

This article is part one of a two-part series on GLBT youth camps. The second, in the next issue, will look at groups that try to “deprogram” same-sex people and make them heterosexual.

 


– Peter Carlyle-Gordge is a Winnipeg- based freelance writer, former producer for CBC radio and former Maclean’s writer.

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