Last January, Jonathan Gerstl, executive director of Camps Airy & Louise, visited Boulder, Colo., for a conference. While there, he saw a five- minute presentation that he found extremely moving.
The address was by Brave Trails, a Los Angeles-based LGBTQ camp for young adults. Gerstl, intent on forming a partnership, approached their representatives immediately afterward.
“I said ‘If you’re ever interested in doing something on the East Coast, let’s have a conversation.’”
Just one year later, Camp Louise will become not only the first East Coast site to host the Brave Trails camp, but it will be its only satellite location, at least for now.
Gerstl’s new partners are Jessica Weissbuch and her wife, Kayla, co-founders of Brave Trails. Weissbuch says that being nervous is unavoidable, but she’s grateful for the expansion of the camp. “There’s always nerves because it’s an unknown,” she said. “But we’re so excited.”
In its fourth season, Brave Trails will host two two-week sessions and one single-week session in its Los Angeles location, and one single-week session in Cascade, Md. Although the camp only runs in two locations, its reach is global. Campers from more than 20 states, along with international campers from Israel, Iceland, China and Germany are expected to attend the 2018 sessions.
One of the reasons Gerstl felt strongly about the camp is because of its aim to educate. “There are other camps that run summer programs for the LGBTQ+ community, but nobody else is doing the leadership and activism piece of this,” he said, emphasizing that he found the leadership element of Brave Trail’s mission to be consistent with Camps Airy & Louise’s own mission. “It really struck a chord for me.”
Through workshops and creative programming, the campers will be taught how to educate people in their own communities about LGBTQ people. “One of the things that Brave Trails focuses on is combatting negativity with learning,” said Amy Bram, the director of creative engagement for Camps Airy & Louise.
Bram believes the camp’s age range, 12-18, is the perfect demographic to not only spread a message of inclusion to the community, but to experience the positivity for their own well-being.
“It’s hard enough to get through adolescence just from a hormone perspective, let alone anything else going on in your life,” she said. “Brave Trails really creates a safe space. We want to create more safe spaces.”
Issues surrounding the LGBTQ community can be polarizing, which is why Weissbuch stressed the importance of a camp like Brave Trails. “We’re fortunate in California that it’s illegal to have conversion therapy,” she said. “We think ‘we’re in 2018 now and that that stuff doesn’t happen.’ But it still happens.”
Bram says the response to Brave Trails from Baltimore’s Jewish community has been singular. “Thus far the response has been unbelievably, overwhelmingly and consistently positive,” she said, unable to curb her own excitement.
Gerstl added that he has received multiple emails from elated community members.
Jessica believes that therapy for LGBTQ youth is beneficial, but shouldn’t be their only form of self-care. “There’s a lot of space for LGBTQ youth to go to therapy,” she said. “We really pride ourselves on not being a therapy camp, we’re a leadership camp.”