Summer Camp for LGBT Youth Debuts in P-town

by Dan Meyer
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 19, 2012

A new LGBT youth camp in Provincetown, Mass., will celebrate the traditional ideals of summer this August by providing an inclusive and secure environment for teens to work in arts, fitness and self-discovery.

"The name came from it being a 'lightbulb' idea. The imagery around light is always positive. The named seemed right," explained Camp Lightbulb Founding Director Puck Markham.

Participating teens aged 16-18 will sleep in three-person tents at a campsite just five minutes outside of town. But just because they'll be under the stars doesn't mean they won't be pampered. All of the tents will have cots, soft furnishings and even contain some LGBT-themed decorations.

"We're calling [the tents] 'gay fabulous,'" said Markham.

Those already signed up for the weeklong program are most excited about making a connection with their peers, according to Markham. He also mentioned that, so far, the majority of the campers are female, although two boys have signed up. No transgender- or bisexual-identifying youth have signed up.

During the trip, teens aged 16-18 will participate in activities like whale watching, visiting the Pilgrim's Monument and visiting Provincetown's famous art galleries.

"The wonderful thing about Provincetown is that it's where being extraordinary becomes ordinary," said Markham. "It's such a warm, welcoming environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people."

Additionally, campers will see a show at a nearby theater. Admitting that most shows in Provincetown tend to be adult-themed, he hopes to take campers to see a more G-rated program.

"The goal is that we want all the traditional camp activities like campfires and sing-alongs, but then bring in everything that makes P-town special," Markham explains. "We really want this to be something that makes all the joy and fun of a summer camp but in a very specific, welcoming, supportive environment."

Response Positive, But Only Half of Spots are Filled

"I think a camp like this one, if done correctly, can benefit the younger LGBTQ community by providing positive role models to help them grow," said Henry Wilder, 23, an admissions worker at Boston University who grew up in Atlanta.

"Those years are some of the most critical for human development, and having strong positive leaders who have commonalities helps bring understanding and inspiration to younger people," added Wilder. "Also, this is a great way to make alliances and create friendships, which are always important!"

Inspiring speakers will visit the camp to promote health and awareness for these teens that are only just beginning to discover their sexuality.

One such speaker, Nathan Manske, is well known for his project called I’m From Driftwood, which showcases LGBT youth across America.

"I’m From Driftwood’s primary focus is to help LGBT youth feel not so alone. So I can’t wait to not only share stories with the youth at Camp Lightbulb, but hear their thoughts as well," said Nanske. "Camp Lightbulb is all about creating a community through outdoor activities, and I’m From Driftwood is all about creating a community through storytelling and sharing. Combining the two should create a unique sense of bonding and understanding for not just the youth, but myself and the program leaders."

"I’m giddy myself about going to camp!," the storyteller admitted. "I can’t wait to meet the youth and hear their thoughts on the I’m From Driftwood stories I’ll be sharing. But even more, I can’t wait to hear their own stories. I can’t imagine being out and involved in the community at their age so I’m looking forward to being inspired by them...They have such a unique perspective and I know I’ll get a lot out of it."

Two co-directors of the camp, both of whom are very experienced, helped Markham start Camp Lightbulb. Two counselors, one associated with Tufts and another who works in secondary schools in Rhode Island, will be in attendance during the week, along with three program coordinators, including a social worker from Hyannis who will focus on the tougher issues that LGBT youth face, such as bullying and suicide.

But so far, only six out of the twelve spaces available are filled.

"We are a super small organization, so our marketing has been more last-minute than we would’ve liked it to be," said Markham, who plans next year to start reaching out in March and April when high-schoolers are making their summer plans.

This year, organizers mainly spoke to gay-straight alliances and PFLAG chapters across New England, in addition to getting the local press on Cape Cod involved. Attempts to communicate with organizations that Camp Lightbulb found on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were not as successful as they hoped.

As such, Markham encourages anyone who doesn’t have summer plans yet to consider spending the week there. To that end, Camp Lightbulb is offering two scholarships to help campers whose parents might need some assistance.

"Any kind of new project will have this sense of trying to make something happen almost last-minute," he said, adding that the kids who are signed up will be "true pioneers" for future campers who might come next year or the year after.

"I think Camp Lightbulb sounds like an incredible opportunity for LGBT youth, not only to connect with peers, but also to have an escape from an oftentimes isolating environment where being gay is not fully accepted or understood," said Christian Hurst, 23, a researcher at Children’s Hospital.

Hurst felt that the 16-18 age range was often a period where many teens start to question their sexuality and might not feel comfortable expressing interest in the camp to their friends and family. He thought it would be interesting, as the camp evolved, to entertain a future possibility of implementing an element of anonymity for those campers who may not yet be out. Still, Hurst admitted that the camp was almost too good to be true.

"I definitely would have done it as a teenager if it had been available," said Hurst.

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Dan Meyer is a young professional whose stories have appeared in publications such as The Advocate online and UCLA’s LGBT magazine entitled "OutWrite." He is also a part-time ESL teacher in Boston.


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