by Xeph Kalma
“Studies find that support from parents/the community help LGBTQ+ children!”
I keep seeing articles with titles like this pop up on my social media feeds and every time I read them I can feel this sarcastic smirk spreading across my face. Support helps people! How shocking! I would never in a million years have imagined that loving and encouraging youth rather than shunning or shaming them would be a positive thing.
Unfortunately, for some people this kind of non-judgemental support is a wickedly radical concept. Some people apparently need to read about these studies to understand that things like having positive spaces, being surrounded by like minded folx, and receiving encouragement rather than shame reduce suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth. But for myself, a trans woman of colour who only found the language and the courage to come out at the age of 30, the results of these studies seem so obvious that it’s almost baffling to me why they needed to conduct a study in the first place. I can only imagine the positive impact an LGBTQ+ friendly space for youth would have had on me when I was younger. I know for certain that if I’d had one my journey to where I am now would have been far easier, happier, healthier and less lonely.
The good news is that there is a space like that right here in Ontario called the Ten Oaks Project. Based out of Ottawa, the Ten Oaks Project is a grassroots organizations that has been helping LGBTQ+ children and youth find a safe place to flourish and be themselves since 2004. They operate Camp Ten Oaks, an amazing summer camp with programming based on the principles of modern social, design play and workshops. They also run Project Acorn, which offers a different experiences for those ages 16-24 with a focus on creating an empowering and liberating experience with workshops and camp activities. Both spaces aim to facilitate social interaction that encourages self-esteem rather than reducing it -something that’s incredibly important for LGBTQ+ kids and children of LGBTQ+ families – as well as work on building leadership skills and self-confidence.
The Ten Oaks Project is an inclusive space, so these programs are meant to be as financially accessible as possible. They believe that no child should have to worry about whether they can afford to participate in Camp Ten Oaks or Project Acorn. There is a fee of $900 per camper, but the charity works on a sliding scale to ensure that any who would like to attend are able to do so. 80% of the participants in these programs use the sliding scale fee, which means that the Ten Oaks Project is always in need of donations and volunteers.
Registration has already filled up for many of the age groups in the 2016 Camp Ten Oaks session, which will run from July 31st to August 6th at RKY Camp near Kingston, Ontario. At the time of writing there are 23 children on the waitlist, hoping another spot at camp will open up. It is the only camp of its kind in Canada, so children who do not get a space will have no option except to wait and hope for a spot next year.
This is where you come in.
If you are financially able, please consider making a donation to the Ten Oaks Project. You can pledge to give money monthly, or if you prefer you can make a one-time donation. They also accept in-kind donations, so if you have materials, supplies, items or services you think they might be able to use, please contact them at email@example.com. A $10 or $25 donation can get you some sweet camp swag. If you have time to give, please consider becoming a volunteer. Even just taking the time to share information about Ten Oaks on your social media platforms can make a difference!
The Ten Oaks Project is an incredibly important resource. Spaces like these can literally be life-saving for some kids. I know the whole “it takes a village” thing is kind of trite, but the truth is that we are these children’s village, and it’s our job to create a world where they can grow and thrive.
As I said above, I can only imagine how different my life would have been if I had been able to access a warm and accepting place like Ten Oaks – a place where I could be myself rather than being forced into a gendered group to which I didn’t belong. There is such a huge power in receiving positive messages about yourself, especially when you’re a kid who’s struggling to figure everything out. And knowing that there was a whole community out there of other kids who feel the same way as me? That would have been absolutely priceless.
You can help give these priceless experiences to kids. So please, if you can, make a donation. You have no idea whose life you might save.