LGBTQ kids in Calgary now have a camp to call their own

(Calgary) For sexual and gender minority youth, summer camp is more than a rite of passage—it may be the one safe space that can save their lives. At Camp fYrefly, harassed, bullied and otherwise marginalized youth develop personal resiliency and learn ways to lead positive social change in their schools, families and communities.

Now that potentially life-saving experience is coming to Calgary. Thanks to founding donations from ATB Financial, the Chinook Foundation and many other community groups, the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) at the University of Alberta, in partnership with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, will open its first Camp fYrefly location near Calgary July 11 to 14.

“I had a lot going on in my life at the time of camp, and I was really struggling with some things,” says camp participant Shelby Richardson. “The people at camp were always there to listen, and lend advice and provide support. I was never worried about being judged or looked at differently. I felt accepted and loved by everyone at camp!”

“This is an incredibly exciting day for us, to celebrate the opening of Camp fYrefly Calgary and know that we will be able to reach many youth in this area who need critical support,” says Kris Wells, Camp fYrefly co-founder and associate director of iSMSS. “At the same time, we know the demand for our services is greater than what we can deliver, so we hope that more members of the Calgary community will show their support and allow us to expand our programming and research even further.”

2013 is the 10th anniversary of Camp fYrefly, which has helped more than 500 youth from across Canada develop leadership skills. At Camp fYrefly, youth engage in more than 25 arts-based and leadership workshops and have the opportunity to meet people in similar life circumstances. For four days each summer, Camp fYrefly creates a world free from fear and violence. For many young people, this camp is the only place in their lives where they truly feel accepted for who they are.

“We all have a role to play to ensure we have a society free from discrimination, harassment and bullying, where we feel safe and free to be ourselves,” said Jonathan Denis, minister of justice and solicitor general. “When we accept, embrace and empower sexual and gender minorities, we are helping to make Alberta a better place for all of us.”

The launch of Camp fYrefly Calgary comes two months after the kickoff of a $5-million fundraising campaign to support the goals of iSMSS. There are four main objectives for the campaign:

  • Expand Camp fYrefly into a national program.
  • Expand the institute’s research programs and services.
  • Train the next generation of researchers and recruit master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral students from across Canada and the world.
  • Create an endowment to help support core operating funding.

The research of iSMSS influences policy direction and decisions, and actively supports families, schools, and communities to positively address sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

“We want all youth to be supported to move from feeling at risk to becoming resilient community members and leaders. It’s very rewarding when we see teachers, counsellors, politicians and policy-makers better understand how to help sexual and gender minority youth deal with the bullying and harassment they may face in their daily lives,” says Wells. “This is research that has the potential to transform communities and build a more just society for everyone. Or as the youth tell us, this is research that has the potential to save lives.”