The Southeastern LGBTQ Activist Camp 2013

Three weeks ago I piled into a van with seven Georgia youth and drove six sticky hours into the heart of Mississippi. We were on our way to the second annual Southeastern LGBTQ Activist Camp, a gathering of around 40 queer youth from across the south.

The camp was created collaboratively between several groups organizing across state lines: the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, Georgia Equality, Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, Southern Poverty Law Center, and GSA Network were the main sponsors of the camp along with several other supporting organizations.

The camp was created in order to strengthen regional bonds and provide tools and support for the next generation of social justice leaders. The camp is primarily run by youth and attendees learn to use their students clubs (most often Gay-Straight Alliances) to work towards social justice for all, in their schools, community, and the world. Campers learned about the intersections of race, class, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation and how their identities and the struggles others face are interconnected.

Campers also had the opportunity to visit many significant Civil Rights historical sites, including Medgar Ever’s home, the COFO Center, the original building considered to be the “nerve center” of the Mississippi freedom movement. Campers learned first-hand about the turbulent struggle these activists experienced and their tactics for survival and radical change in the most segregated state in the South. The campers connected their struggle with the Civil Rights movement and learned the hard-won lessons from their victories and sacrifices.

For me, the most powerful moment happened on Saturday night while the campers were preparing for the Talent Show. The verdict for the Trayvon Martin case was released and we found out that George Zimmerman had been acquitted. After spending all day learning about racism through an institutional and historical lens, this ruling was a concrete example of the injustices we’d been discussing in theory.

There was an immediate and visceral outpouring of grief and anger; campers began to share their own stories of being targeted, discriminated against, and made to feel afraid, just because of how they looked. They shared stories about how they could have been Trayvon, how they had lost friends, how discrimination reaches beyond just gun violence. Some cried, some raged, some sang and others prayed, in the end everyone was affected by it and shared something in a raw and organic way that we never could have planned for.

Eventually, they wanted action. We quickly organized an impromptu candle light vigil and headed down to the Mississippi capitol where police were already waiting. We were turned away and instead held the candle light vigil in the parking lot of the hotel where we were staying.

The outpouring continued in words, songs and tears and as we stood there in solidarity with our candles, something special began to happen. Other residents at the hotel, people completely unrelated to the camp, began to walk over and silently join our circle. They shared that moment with us and we began the healing process together that night. It was a transformative experience for many of the youth, none of us, adults included, will forget where we were and who we were with when the verdict was released.

It was an intense four days; campers left with a much deeper understanding oppression and what they can do to change the injustices they experience and what a true community of resistance looks like. We went our separate ways and returned to our home states with new friends, perspectives, tools, and passion. These young leaders will be the future of our movement and formidable agents of change wherever they go.

A few campers shared what they got out of the experience:

“My favorite part of camp was definitely the Trans*Justice Workshop because being transgender is a foreign concept for lots of people. This showed us how to get the word out there and educate people to make transphobia less apparent.”

“At the camp I learned a lot about many things but the most important thing I took from the camp was the racial justice segment, it informed me a lot about the bias people face even in our own community. Also, I enjoyed the experience of the camp, meeting lots of great people and learning and hearing everybody’s story.”

“When I did this camp last year I never expected to fall in love with it or make the lifelong friends I did. But when I was asked to come back this year to be a leader I accepted right away, seeing different southern states come together to fight for not only our individual rights as people but for the rights of our fellow activists gives me so much hope for the future as we know it. The camp is nothing less than magic in its purest form. It makes me believe every time I go.”

One Response to “The Southeastern LGBTQ Activist Camp 2013”

  1. Doc says:

    What a plsaruee to find someone who thinks through the issues

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