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Camp OUT!

This July a brave contingent of LGBTQ youth will pack their bags and brace themselves for a week in the great outdoors at a summer camp designed specifically for them.

They’re heading to PFLAG Canada Durham Region’s Youth Leadership Camp, a weeklong opportunity for LGBTQ campers and allies ages 14 to 17 to engage in activities like canoeing, archery, hiking and talent shows in a safe and inclusive environment.

The volunteer-run camp is also designed to highlight the struggles within LGBTQ communities so at-risk youth who experience depression or homophobic bullying at school, for example, know they are not alone.  

So far this year, 26 campers have enrolled in the program. “Our highest demand to date,” says PFLAG Durham Region’s Media & Public Relations Manager Amy Breedon. But if recent cutbacks to the camp’s budget remain unresolved, there will be fewer, if any, spots left and some activities will have to go altogether.

“We lost some of our key sponsors [this year] due to cutbacks in the dollars donated or allocated to give,” says Breedon, who estimates the camp, which costs anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 to run for a week, is about $7,000 short of meeting its financial needs.

Breedon says PFLAG Canada Durham Region will always ensure the camp runs, but if it doesn’t recoup its recent losses, the program will be forced to operate on a lower budget, which means spaces will be cut and there will be less opportunity for campers to take advantage of activities, such as canoeing.

The camp, which is free to attend, is in an undisclosed location in order to keep the space safe for everyone involved. “The need for this camp to run is insurmountable,” says Breedon.

And the camp will run…if the Haus of JaJa has any say in it.  

The Haus of JaJa–a Toronto-based philanthropy group run by locals Jason Yantha, Andrew Edwards, Jeff Brown and Andrew Gouveia–is throwing a fundraiser in PFLAG Durham’s honour to help the not-for-profit organization raise the funds it needs.

The after-work social, appropriately called Camp OUT!, will transform the Stealth Lounge at The Pilot into a happy hour campground where wearing bug spray will be an acceptable form of cologne. There’ll be hot lifeguards selling raffle tickets and a large donation board where attendees can donate certain amounts of money to specific causes, such as sending a camper a lunch or a kayak, says Jason Yantha, one of the organizers.

“PFLAG Durham’s Youth Leadership camp isn’t just a summer vacation,” says Yantha. “Kids go there because they need help. Some of their lives depend on it.”

Andrew Gouveia, another organizer, only wishes he had access to a gay-friendly camp while growing up. “I remember being a kid in the suburbs in Richmond Hill and the biggest thing I didn’t want people to know was that I was gay. You’d see other kids get bullied or called out for it,” he says.

“This camp represents a space where kids can come together and relate to others who are like them,” says Gouveia.

In between the camp songs and s’mores, attendees at Camp OUT! will be treated to a special performance by local drag star Brooke Lynn Hytes. The Haus of JaJa hopes to raise the $7,000 PFLAG Durham needs to run its camp properly.

“We’re going raise as much money as possible that will hopefully save a kid’s life,” says Yantha.

Camp OUT! takes place on Thursday, June 19th in the Stealth Lounge of The Pilot Tavern (22 Cumberland Street) from 5pm to 9pm. PFLAG Durham Region’s Youth Leadership Camp runs from July 20th to July 25th. To make a donation to the camp, go to pflagdurhamregion.com/camp/