I spent last week at gay camp. For fourteen years Camp Ten Trees has been providing a space for LGBTQ youth and youth with LGBTQ family members to find compassion and community in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Volunteering at camp means canoeing, archery, family-style meals, friendship bracelets, and camp songs just like any other camp. But unlike any other camp many campers come with fears about living an authentic life, homophobic school bully worries, and abuse stories about coming out.
I was missing the beautiful campers I met this year when I watched a viral video on youtube this evening. "How not to react when your child tells you he's gay" (trigger warning: violence, and severe homophobia) is a hidden video of a family responding abusively to a son, Daniel, coming out as gay. It is absolutely heartbreaking.
The worst part is, this experience is incredibly common. 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and are homeless due to hateful family interactions like this one. Family rejections and hateful religious messages play a huge role in the high suicide rates for LGBTQ youth. LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be physically harassed and bullied at school and nearly 60% of LGBTQ identified folks report physical assault or intimidation.
I spend my week at camp trying to affirm the youth there as much as I can. Filling their sweet hearts with as much confidence, self-compassion, and strength as I can- hoping it will boost their resilience for the coming year.
And yet, as we say goodbye as the camp bus pulls up, many of their faces fill with tears, knowing they are about to return to a world so much less affirming and accepting than our camp community.
When I watched Daniel's video I cried for him and the thousands of other young people bravely coming out in hateful and violent circumstances. I wrote him a letter, hoping young people in similar situations might find it and experience some peace.
Dear Daniel (and all the other Queer youth struggling with hateful families):