Creating Safe Havens: Camp fYrefly for LGBTQ+ Youth

PC: Tanya Ross

From July 7-10 2016, youth from all over the country attended a 4 day residential retreat at Camp fYrefly in Cochrane. Camp fYrefly is an educational, social and personal learning retreat for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, genderqueer non-binary, two-spirit, queer, questioning, pansexual, asexual and allied (LGBTQ+) youth.

Hilary Mutch (she/her) is the Camp coordinator at Camp fYrefly. Since entering adulthood, she felt that the intersections of heteronormativity, sexism and patriarchy created unsafe spaces for her, a young, queer youth, and many she interacted with. Her experiences have shaped her viewpoints as a feminist, social justice advocate and inspired her to work with youth at Camp fYrefly. At Camp, Hilary seeks to empower youth and grant them the ability to change their own situations. She believes that even tiny acts of support, such as offering pickups and drop-offs for those that cannot access Cochrane, can make a huge difference for the person being helped.

In partnership with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, Camp fYrefly offers a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth to explore their identity, develop leadership qualities and build resilience.  Respect and consent are instrumental themes in camp, for example, it’s required to ask for other people’s pronouns rather than assuming a gender identity. Campers can also sign up for workshops that help build their awareness and skills, from a simple Bike Basics workshop to the Two Spirit workshop that explores the themes of colonialism and their role in truth and reconciliation. Youth can also attend fun events such as the Talent Showcase where they can share spoken word, songs and stories of their own creation. A notable piece this year was a beautiful performance of a song from “Hamilton”.

Camp fYrefly is also garnering support across the community, from organizations such as Hillhurst United Church and ATB Financial. Hillhurst United Church provides financial support as well as being part of the Camp team in many roles from Camp Nurse to dishwasher. Volunteers typically return energized and eager to champion the cause that Camp symbolizes.

Ultimately, Camp fYrefly serves as a model for how youth could be supported, LGBTQ+ or not; each person is celebrated as unique rather than rejected for their differences.  As Pam Rocker from Hillhurst United Church said, “We all need community. We all need a place… where we can just BE.

The hope embedded in this initiative is that, one day there won’t be a need for Camp fYrefly, because LGBTQ+ youth will be able to explore their identity safely and receive the support they need within the traditional school setting and the larger community.

For more information, visit the Camp fYrefly website or email Hilary at hmutch@calgarysexualhealth.ca.

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