Overview of Gender Inclusive Practices
We want to start incorporating some gender inclusive housing into camp because it is the right thing to do and will help us allow all campers and staff to grow. Bishopswood, along with the Episcopal church, has been a very loving and caring community for a long time. It is important that we make a place for all people, which means purposefully including the LGBTQ+ community. For the last 5 years, we have been more intentional about moving in this direction. We removed the gendered sides of the cabin area and instead grouped cabins into age group villages. For a couple of years, partly due to a shortage of male staff, we have had co-gender counselor pairs in cabins. Last summer, because of Covid, we had the traditional male and female sides of the bathhouse be co-gender for toilets. Every time we have made a change, campers and staff have been resilient, accepting, and almost non-bothered. We have also had very little push back from adults. Our mission at camp is “a place where we can grow”. Two of the ways that we want campers and staff to grow are that firstly, they can be themselves, and secondly, we want them to take care of themselves. If we want all campers to be able to achieve that part of our mission, then it is time to make all campers feel comfortable about which cabin they choose to make their home for the week.
A short video of why this work is so important by Chris Rehs-Dupin
We know for some families this might be a new way of thinking and for others that you are saying thank you for finally getting here. This does not have to be divisive; our world currently already is. At camp we are just trying to make sure ALL campers feel comfortable. If this is a new concept for you, we ask you talk to us. You will learn about how little this will change the majority of a camper’s experience but can mean the world for a camper who does not fit the binary. As with many aspects of privacy, we cannot always communicate everything to every camper family, but know we are going to do everything we can to make sure your camper has the best experience at camp.
How will counselors be assigned to cabins?
During the interview process, counselors will be asked if they prefer to be in a single-sex cabin or if they would prefer to be in gender inclusive housing. We will then ask what experience they have working in these different environments and figure out who has the most applicable expertise and can provide the campers the best and safest experience. The number of years as a counselor and experience with LGBTQ+ folks will be considered when making decisions. Myself and the senior staff will then assign counselors to cabins that are most fitting for the whole Bishopswood community.
How will campers be assigned to cabins?
This will be a similar process. During registration, camper families will be asked if they prefer to be in a male cabin, female cabin, and/or a gender inclusive cabin. By choosing a male or female cabin that does not mean you can only be in it if you were assigned that gender at birth. There is space on our application to add a note so the family could say something like, “our first choice is to be in a gender inclusive cabin, but if not, we would prefer to be in an all-female cabin”, etc.
Will you be asking campers and staff to share their pronouns during introductions?
We started this a couple of summers ago with staff and last summer with all cabins. All campers, six-year-olds on up, were asked about their pronouns in every name circle we did on camp.
If my camper asks to use a different name or set of pronouns will that information be shared with parents?
This would be up to the camper. Similarly to what we would do if staff asked us to use a different name or pronouns, we would have a conversation with that camper and ask them who they would like us to share this information with or who they would like us not to share it with. We are a small enough camp that we can work with each camper toward what will make them feel the most comfortable.
Will campers be allowed to switch bunks once they arrive at camp?
This is difficult for us. If there is space, yes. Most of the time, our cabins are completely full, so we couldn’t do it immediately. If the camper requesting a change is at camp for multiple weeks, there is a good chance that we would be able to switch their cabin before the next week’s session starts.
If my camper changes their cabin during their session will that information be shared with parents?
That is entirely up to the camper and what makes them feel most comfortable. We will work with the camper to make their transition back home as safe and successful as it can be.
How will counselors be trained in gender inclusive practices?
Bishopswood has been going in this direction for years and has started this training process. The Executive Director, Registrar, Board Members, and some key senior staff have participated in a Gender Inclusive Housing best practice seminar and had training with the presenter to work through how to best support all Bishopswood campers with this change. Our hope is to bring the presenter to our staff training this summer.
How will my camper’s privacy be maintained in the cabin?
This summer we will be adding a changing tent or changing room to every cabin, not just to the gender inclusive cabin(s). Campers are also encouraged to change at the bathhouse where there are private stalls and showers. My hope in the next couple of years is to build our dream gender-inclusive cabins and then build a changing room on the side of every camper cabin. We currently have them for our counselors, so we would just add another one for our campers.
What about showers and bathrooms?
We would continue to monitor bathhouse use and have staff present. We are lucky that all toilets and showers are individual stalls, and the sinks are outside of the bathhouse.
Won’t gender-inclusive cabins encourage romantic relationships?
No. We personally don’t believe the inclusive cabins will do that; we think it is purely the chemistry of the people involved. It is our responsibility to be on the look-out for it and encourage positive, healthy relationships.
Won’t creating gender inclusive spaces encourage more kids to change their gender?
No, there is plenty of research out there that says this is not true. By having gender-inclusive housing, it will allow all campers to feel comfortable at camp and allow them to grow and be who they want to be.
What if my camper has questions or concerns about these practices before or during camp?
We would tell them to talk to their counselor, village leader, anyone on staff, or to Mike the director. Having questions is good and if they are concerned then we want to help them figure those thoughts out. If that means them calling home and talking to parents, we can also allow that.