• (Artist: Luke John Matthew Arnold, used with permission from Camp Out) ((Artist: Luke John Matthew Arnold, used with permission from Camp Out))
“It’s really important for young people to feel like they’re not freaks, misfits and outcasts and that they have a place where they can belong, and know they’re part of this strong, vibrant community.”
By
Michaela Morgan

14 Sep 2017 - 9:41 AM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2017 - 9:45 AM

It’s an experience that most members of the LGBTIQ community could have only dreamed of in high school—a camp in rural NSW where you can be your authentic self and connect with other queer teenagers. 

Camp Out was inspired by a similar program in the United States—Camp Ten Trees—and is now in its seventh year of providing LGBTIQ teens with a safe environment where they can express their identity. 

The group of 50 campers come from all over NSW—typically from outside the Sydney Metro area—for five days of art, music, sport and workshops. 

“There’s no typical camper,” Camp Out volunteer Daisy Little tells SBS. “They come from a range of ages, nationalities and locations.”

“A lot of them are from rural and regional towns and have never met a queer person before. They don’t necessarily have a lot of support at school or from their parents, so its super important to have something like camp where they can go and be safe and meet other people that have similar interests.”

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The Camp Out experience

The Camp Out schedule offers a ridiculously fun selection of activities including zine making, cake decorating, karaoke, swimming and bushwalking plus workshops on sexual health, relationships, body image and consent. 

Camp volunteer Kristian Reyes tells SBS that this year, organisers will also be hosting a queer game show. 

“It’s going to be a little bit like Project Runway, a bit like Survivor, and some trivia to do with queer history as well,” says Reyes. “We try and keep it themed around learning about their own histories and identities.”

"This camp brings them all together for five days—and there’s 50 of them—so they can form those connections, share each other’s stories and hear that they’re not isolated, that there’s people around them in similar situations.”

Reyes and Little say the Camp Out experience helps queer teenagers to build a support network around themselves, in a climate where their existence is constantly being debated. 

“At the moment there’s so much negative publicity about the LGBTIQ community… we’re just being attacked from all sides,” says Little. 

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Reyes adds that: “Even in everyday life—without the postal survey—a lot of the campers are quite isolated in their communities, especially rural and regional young people who are gender diverse.”

“This extra postal survey stuff happening now is an added layer of isolation and confusion about why their bodies and identities have become the target of the debate. 

“This camp brings them all together for five days—and there’s 50 of them—so they can form those connections, share each other’s stories and hear that they’re not isolated, that there’s people around them in similar situations.”

One 16-year-old former camper wrote of the experience that they had learnt “an amazing array of skills and gained heaps of knowledge in workshops.  

“I’ve made amazing new friends and was brave enough to dance in front of 50+ near strangers,” they said. “I will treasure these memories forever," they said. 

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Making it happen

The non-profit, volunteer run Camp Out has launched a Pozible campaign to help fund this year’s activities—with just under a week left for them to reach their goal of $16,000. 

“We raise money to pay for the hire of the site and the food and getting workshop presenters to come along,” says Little. 

“We charge on a sliding scale, so we say to the campers, ‘You can pay between $0 and $200 but if you can’t afford to pay, you don’t pay anything. 

“If you can’t afford camp and you live in Wagga, we’ll pay for your airfare to get here.”

If you’d like to support Camp Out, Little adds that donations of food and new make-up items are always welcome, too, for the camp’s mini beauty salon. 

“Sometimes we ask for clothes but someone had a friend who worked for Opera Australia who were getting rid of a bunch of costumes, so I think this year we’ll be right for dress-ups! 

You can check out the Camp Out's Pozible campaign here