Encampment Report, 2018
In mid-April of 2018 at Peakgrove Solutions, a beautiful bush site on the Yass River, the AIDS Action Council hosted a weekend camp for a creative and diverse group of young queer, transgender and gender diverse people.
In 2018, Encampment was back for its third year and its first overnight camp. Since 2014, Encampment has hosted an annual camp for young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. The camp is entirely peer-led, organised and facilitated by peer-mentors who have diverse experiences of sexuality and gender. This year, there were talks on queer sexual health, healthy relationships, and coming out. These talks ran alongside a program of creative wellbeing workshops supported by the ACT Government’s Youth Week Grants which saw the attendees try drama, art, and equine therapies and practice meditation and yoga.
Encampments purpose is pretty straight forward. The camp facilitates community building amongst young queer people as a way of combating isolation and associated mental health issues while educating young queer people on health and wellbeing information that is tailored to their needs. Encampment is designed not only to bring a weekend of relief from discriminatory environments but to build networks to overcome the social isolation that results from discrimination and prejudice.
Community building is key to combating social isolation and forming networks where young people can share their experiences. While some of our attendees were well connected to community, others had never met another young transgender person before. At camp, young people were overheard sharing stories on their experiences of school, home life and medical services and were keen to follow up on these new found friendships outside of camp.
While Encampment is open to all young LGBTQ people, the majority of camp attendees this year identified as gender diverse or gender questioning. This created a particularly special space at camp where gender norms were questioned and explored in a creative and open environment. Mentors witnessed friendships formed and strengthened, and a community of young queer people were able to be together in a space they made for themselves, freer than most school-based camps from expectations of gender and heterosexual ideals. On the Saturday night, Encampment attendees wowed their mentors by hosting an extravagant talent night which showcased their drumming, singing, and comedy. In a particularly queer segment of the LGBTIQ trivia, superheros were constructed out of newspaper, glitter and off cut material from previous rainbow creations.
Peer support means that young people can share their experiences and ask questions to people who understand their needs. After the internet, peer networks are the key way that young people source information about their experiences of identity, health and wellbeing. Peer networks also reassure young people that they are not alone in their experiences. The 2013 Growing Up Queer study found that, while the internet plays a substantial and important role in connecting young people to information, we know that face-to-face communities are more effective in reducing feelings of isolation.
Community building also helps to facilitate volunteering and activism on transgender and gender diverse issues. As the From Blues to Rainbows report shows us, activism and community participation is a key way that young trans people take action to better their mental health and participate in community. By being involved in Encampment, both the mentor team and the participants at camp have opportunities to build community, participate in awareness raising on issues that affect young people, and become aware of social issues such as discrimination and marginalisation.
This year’s camp received a resoundingly positive response from the Canberra community and is already beginning to plan its fourth camp, scheduled for early 2019.
Special thanks to the ACT Government’s Community Services Directorate, Wayne Herbert, the Fruit Tingles Women’s Dance, Fruit Tingles, Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, and A Gender Agenda for their support of our 2018 camp.
Smith, E., Jones, T., Ward, R., Dixon, J., Mitchell, A., Hillier, L. (2014). From Blues to Rainbows: Mental health and wellbeing of gender diverse and transgender young people in Australia. Melbourne: The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
Robinson, KH, Bansel, P, Denson, N, Ovenden, G & Davies, C 2013, Growing Up Queer: Issues Facing Young Australians Who Are Gender Variant and Sexuality Diverse, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne.