British Columbia

Summer camp on Vancouver Island launching gender-neutral cabins for school children

Strict separation between boys’ cabins and girls’ cabins used to be as much a summer camp theme as bunk beds and late night campfires but, this summer, a children’s camp on Vancouver Island is forgoing gender segregation.

‘They don't have to choose a boys’ group or a girls’ group now,’ says camp manager

Luke Ferris says part of the hope is the gender-neutral cabins will lead to more inclusiveness and remove barriers some non-binary children may have faced before. (Shutterstock)

Strict separation between boys' cabins and girls' cabins used to be as much a summer camp theme as bunk beds and late night campfires but, this summer, a children's camp on Vancouver Island is forgoing gender segregation.

The YMCA/YWCA Camp Thunderbird in Sooke is offering mixed cabin groups for the first time to campers who are in grades three to five — children who are roughly between the ages of eight and 11.

"They don't have to choose a boys' group or a girls' group now," said Luke Ferris, general manager at Camp Thunderbird.

The camp will still offer segregated cabins as well, leaving it up to parents and campers to decide which to register for.

Ferris said the change was partly from feedback from people in the community and partly to be more inclusive.

"Kids like to come to camp with their friends and sometimes their best friend is of a different gender," Ferris told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC's On The Island.

"The other reason is that there are some children in our community that don't identify with the binary gender system."

Luke Ferris said Camp Thunderbird is the first camp he knows of in B.C. to change its cabin policies like this and offer both gender-neutral and segregated sleeping arrangements. (Google Street View)

Message of inclusivity

Offering gender neutral facilities is part of a larger trend in summer camps, Ferris said, but Camp Thunderbird is a bit different.

"There are lots of options across North America for children to sign up for a camp that is specifically geared towards LGBTQ youth," he said.

"To my knowledge, this is the first one — certainly in B.C. — where a more traditional camp is offering non-gender cabin groupings at the same time as binary gender specific groups."

Ferris hopes the changes will send a message of inclusivity to campers.

"Camp is great for everybody and, whether you're fitting into the binary gender paradigm or not, it doesn't really matter once you're at camp and you're having fun," he said.

"We're all, at the base level, the same."

The gender-inclusive cabins are available for August 5-9 and August 19-23 camps.

"We'll see how registration goes for those groups," Ferris said.

"If the demand is there, we'll try to accommodate as many people who want this as possible."

Strict separation between boys' cabins and girls' cabins used to be as much a summer camp as the bunk beds and late night campfires but, this summer, a children's camp on Vancouver Island is forgoing gender segregation. 5:58

With files from On The Island

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