At Edmonton’s Camp Dragonfly this summer, participants had their choice of activities: some played at the playground while others did their nails; later, they could dance or do a quiet guided meditation. Campers also chose whether they wanted to go by a different name, or switch their pronouns, for example from “he” to “she” or “they.”
For transgender kids, this is part of what makes the camp a safer place. To have the freedom to choose, says camp organizer Zoe Chaytors, and for the adults in the room to support that choice, is a break from public life, where their “existence is constantly under question.”
Noticing a lack of programming for trans children, LGBTQ group Rainbow Connection and Southminster-Steinhauer United Church started the camp this summer. The program received funding from Embracing the Spirit through the United Church’s Mission & Service Fund.
The camp was not about being trans, it was simply about being a kid, says Chaytors. Kickboxing, campfire songs and playing by the creek were all part of the two-day retreat for kids ages six to 13.
The 25 campers were supported by four trans, genderfluid and non-binary counsellors. While the kids were nervous when they arrived, Chaytors says that on day two, they walked in with “swagger and confidence.” By camp’s end, they were “coming back to give fourth and fifth and sixth hugs,” she says.
Older campers also opened up to each other in a sharing circle. Camper Rigby Mugridge, 13, says they explored “very sensitive topics.” When asked how this was possible at such a short camp, he says, “everyone knew they weren’t going to get hurt or they weren’t going to get judged.”
In its first year, Dragonfly already felt like family. At the end, caregivers and local trans role models attended a community dinner where Mugridge summed up the camp’s ethos in his graduating camper speech. “Everyone deserves to be loved,” he said. “And even if you don’t think anybody is there for you, there’s always going to be someone.”