LEXINGTON, Ky. — Coming this summer to Lexington, a new summer camp will be the first of its kind in the Commonwealth.
Camp Beacon is raising funds to create a summer camp specifically for young people that identify as part of the LGBTQ community. Although February can be cold and cloudy, co-founder Jess Bowman is already planning for the summer.
“A lot of us have really great summer camp memories and maybe some of us have some not so great summer camp memories,” Bowman said.
Bowman is the brain behind Camp Beacon. It’s a camp, two years in the making, specifically for teens ages 13 to 17, that identify as part of the LGBTQ community. Bowman said it’s a place for them to feel acceptance and comfortable in their own skin.
“Our nation, our state, can be particularly unfriendly to LGBTQ kids and we wanted to provide a camp atmosphere. It’s just a regular summer camp with all the regular summer camp activities,” Bowman said.
One of Bowman’s children identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community and since their coming out, Bowman has become involved in various pro-gay local organizations.
“That has really gotten me interested in being not just a passive-bystander, but someone who actively seeks to make the world a better place,” Bowman said.
Bowman said the idea came from a friend two years ago whose daughter was searching for an LGBTQ-friendly summer camp, but after researching found the “closest” options were in California or Massachusetts.
“After a couple days, we both kind of came back to a chat together and were like ‘Why don’t we just create our own’”?’” Bowman said.
Camp Beacon hopes to become its own nonprofit, but for now is under the umbrella of the Lexington Pride Center, a nonprofit that provides various services, a sense of belonging and sponsors events for Lexington’s LGBTQ community.
“We’ve noticed a lot more interest in children’s activities because kids are coming out of the closet much younger than they used to,” said Crime Victims Advocate at Lexington Pride Center Casey Lyons.
Lyons will be on the camp’s mental health support team. He said it’s great to see more parents asking and looking for accepting places for their LGBTQ youth. Ultimately, he said it positively affects a gay child’s mental health.
“Kids in the LGBTQIA+ community who don’t have the support of parents and a community like this, who are shamed or told to keep it secret, have such high rates of self-harm, suicidality,” Lyons said.
Right now, Camp Beacon will only be open to 25 teens.
“We wanted to start with a number we felt was manageable. We’d rather have a great experience for 25 than an okay experience for 50,” Bowman said.
Bowman said the goal is to make Camp Beacon an annual summer tradition for LGBTQ youth in the Bluegrass State.
The camp will be a week-long and will take place near Lexington. Camp Beacon is not providing publicly the location for safety reasons.
Applications are not yet open, but the camp has an interest survey on its website.