It’s Pride Week in Vancouver, and awkward as it feels to say it, I’m proud of Fresh Roots and our commitment to inclusion of people across the sexuality and gender spectrums. I’m especially proud of how that’s showing up at Camp Fresh Roots and how we’re able to support our gender diverse campers and staff. Where we are today feels so different from the camps I worked at as a youth. As telling our stories and remembering where we’ve come from is an important part of Pride, I hope you’ll indulge a bit of personal history.
As a young queer* woman working at a Girl Scout camp in the Seattle area back in the late 1990’s, being vocally gay was seen as “not camper appropriate.” It was something you could be in the staff house (and there were a lot of us – it’s where I met my spouse!), but not in front of the kids. In other parts of the country, similar camps were firing or not rehiring staff just because of their sexual orientation. Gender diversity wasn’t something I even remember talking about – trans people existed, but not at camp. (Several of my coworkers from that time have since come out as trans and/or non-binary, because of course they did exist at camp.) The idea that campers might be queer? Well, a trans 8 year old or a pansexual 12 year old wasn’t something we even thought about. This was, for the time, what a supportive camp environment looked like.
When I took on creating Camp Fresh Roots in 2017, I wanted it to be a space where campers and staff thrived and were able to bring their full selves. When we can be our full selves, and when we can see people like us as role models, that is when we thrive, connect, and build relationships. That’s when we live in joy. And Fresh Roots is all about building joyful relationships with food, land, and community.
Despite twenty plus years of social progress, we still live in a heteronormative, cis-centric society, so it’s taken specific intent and actions to realize our goals. The actions we’ve taken to create this space can be done by anyone just about anywhere. Many of them support our campers’ and staff’s other unique identities as well!
- We recognize that there is no one “standard” family. We talk about “families” and “adults” instead of “mom and dad” or “parents.” Our forms don’t assume the genders or relationships of the most important adults in a camper’s life.
- We honour people’s chosen names. While we need legal names for some documentation, we ask for preferred names and use those exclusively at camp. All our staff use camp names, which is a decades old camp tradition I wanted to bring to Fresh Roots. It’s also proving a really great way to introduce campers to the idea of respecting people’s chosen names, and the concept that people may use different names in different places or at different times.
- We honour people’s pronouns. Pronouns can be tricky. For younger campers, the idea of what a pronoun is may be new; older campers may struggle with using pronouns differently than they are used to. So we take a multistep approach to this. All staff are introduced with their pronouns during the All Camp welcome on Monday mornings and have pronoun pins they can wear. Staff are empowered to engage in discussions with their camper groups about their gender identities and pronouns; some of our camper groups have chosen to make their own pronoun buttons. And we have a few books in our collection that help facilitate those conversations, especially around non-binary identities:
- We have universal washrooms. It can be hard to decide what washroom you should use if your options are “boys” or “girls” and you’re not a boy or a girl. While we’ve always had single stall washrooms available, having to use a different washroom from your peers can feel exclusionary. And once you’re in a stall, does it really matter? So this summer we’ve made our washrooms universal by the high tech solution of art taped over the words “boys” or “girls”. (This also solves the problem of when more kids need to use the bathroom than there are stalls available in the “correct” washroom, or one of them is being cleaned. Inclusivity for the win!)
We are, as always, still learning and growing in how we can create a truly welcoming space, but we’re seeing the rewards of that work in how our staff and campers show up every day. The focus of our camp is growing, cooking, and sharing delicious food, learning about and caring for the natural world that supports that food, and making and deepening friendships and community connections. Knowing that at the same time we are creating a world where everyone is free to be who they are and love who they love, well, that’s definitely something to be proud of.
With ?️? Pride and Joy ?️⚧️
Kat “Half-Note” Vriesema-Magnuson
*Queer can be a divisive term and has been used derogatorily for over 100 years. It is also a term that queer people have been using to describe themselves for that same length of time. In modern usage, it sometimes serves as an umbrella term for refer broadly to non-straight and/or non-cisgender people. Personally, it’s the label I took for myself as a young adult and is still the one that fits best with who I am and how I move through the world. As always, if you don’t know what words someone would like used for them, it’s always best to ask!