Camp fyrefly, a four-day retreat for LGBTQ youth, is coming to Ontario for the first time this summer and will be hosted by Trent University.
The camp’s arts-based program runs in four cities each summer and includes activities in the visual and performing arts, as well as workshops about youth social issues. The University of Alberta launched the camp in Edmonton in 2004. Organizers brought the retreat to Saskatoon, Regina and Calgary, and they’re now setting out for Peterborough from July 13 to 16.
“It certainly was a dream for us to take the camp across Canada and make it a national program,” says André Grace, co-founder of Camp fYrefly and director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the U of A. Since a significant number of campers were coming all the way from Ontario, Dr. Grace reached out to colleagues at Trent about expanding there.
“Universities have tremendous resources that can be used to provide in-kind supports,” he says. “I think it’s creating an opportunity for those of us in the university to give back in a very tangible way,” he says.
Cathy Bruce, dean of Trent’s school of education and professional learning, is helping to organize the Peterborough outpost. “We are just so honoured to be the choice of Camp fYrefly for this to happen,” she says. “Part of our core here at Trent is to work with, and support, LGBTQ and two-spirited youth. It’s just such a great fit for the university.”
Trent is home to a new youth-oriented outreach club that works to raise awareness about discrimination against people who identify as LGBTQ. The university also regularly facilitates Positive Space training to encourage staff, faculty and students to learn about sexual and gender identities.
Dr. Bruce says the camp is an opportunity for LGBTQ youth aged 14 to 24 to see a university campus as a place where they fit. “It’s a way for them to connect with a postsecondary institution and see that as a really interesting, inviting place for them to be.”
Dr. Grace agrees. “I want the youth who come to our camp to see possibilities for their futures,” he says. “A university setting is perfect for that because then it becomes a space where they feel accommodated and they may consider, once they finish high school, coming on to that university to do their undergrad.”
Organizers at Trent are modelling inclusivity in part by engaging the help of undergraduate students in planning, fundraising and facilitating activities for campers. And like its Western counterparts, the Ontario camp is collaborating with community organizations. The Peterborough Police Service, for example, will co-host a session on health and safety for campers.
Spencer Harrison, director of Camp fYrefly for Ontario and a faculty member at OCAD University, says working with the community is a way of moving minds and ideas forward about LGBTQ youth. “I don’t think that we’re just trying to help [the] 60 campers in each camp,” he says. “I think we’re helping a whole community become more attuned to this population.”