When Jewish Transgender Teens Come Out of Closet, Many Leave Camp Behind

Alternatives Spring Up as Camps Struggle To Be Inclusive

Beyond Labels: Camp Ten Trees in the Pacific Northwest caters to transgender kids.
Courtesy of Camp Ten Trees
Beyond Labels: Camp Ten Trees in the Pacific Northwest caters to transgender kids.

By Sarah Seltzer

Published July 24, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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One way to encourage this, Ware said, is to get CITs and counselors who have been at camp for years involved in policy and philosophy changes so that they’re “invested” in being inclusive and can monitor the environment actively. Counselors set the tone. “Kids really look up to the counselors. They’re that age where it feels kind of like an older sibling,” Alex said.

Though most Jewish camps are still fumbling their way through transgender inclusion, one small Reconstructionist camp in the Poconos has taken a small but definitive step to show that it means business.

“We’ve always in our dining hall had gender-neutral, single-stall bathrooms, but this year, we put new signs up on the door: ‘These bathrooms are available to all regardless of identity,’” said Rabbi Isaac Saposnik, director of Camp JRF. “The bathroom itself hasn’t changed, but the statement externally has.”

The staff wants visitors to walk on campus, he said, and to immediately feel welcome. Saposnik said that his camp has been able to move more “nimbly” on issues of transgender inclusion than larger Jewish institutions might, but he acknowledges that it has still been imperfect. Still, he said, “We’ve moved from training our staff on ‘What happens if a camper comes out?’ to ‘How do we create an environment where everyone feels safe and supported?’”

“It’s not only about the nitty-gritty specifics. It’s a real tikkun — it’s an opportunity for the Jewish community to say that we are living our best values.”

Sarah Marian Seltzer is a journalist and fiction writer based in New York City and a contributor to the Sisterhood blog. She tweets at @sarahmseltzer.

Reporting contributed by Chanel Dubofsky


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