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Rainbow Camp Offers Safety, Support to LGBTQ Teens in Houston

Organizers seek donations for scholarship fund as third annual gathering approaches. 

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Dre Guthrie, a 19-year-old college student, says being transgender can be “exhausting.”

“Changing your identity is hard, and trying to figure out who you are is hard,” Guthrie says.

Assigned female at birth, Guthrie says he always felt different. After learning about trans people online, he explored gender fluidity, including periods of identifying as lesbian.

Guthrie, who is from Cypress, decided to begin transitioning in eighth grade. It was a slow process that started with changing his hairstyle and requesting to be called by his chosen name. He started ninth grade wearing a boys’ uniform and was the only trans person in his class.

Behind Guthrie’s transition was a lot of pain. While his family was relatively supportive, life was far more difficult away from home. There was no Gay Student Alliance at his school, despite his repeated attempts over four years to start one.

Dre Guthrie

Just going to the bathroom was a chore: Guthrie had to sneak into the boys’ bathroom during class time, hoping there wouldn’t be anyone in there (if there was, he would leave). A straight-A student, Guthrie’s honor-roll notices were ripped off his locker on a regular basis. He was demeaned behind his back by the school’s jocks and was invited to only one party in his four years of high school.

Tired of feeling isolated and alone, Guthrie began self-harming by severely burning his arms, partly because of self-loathing and partly because of anxiety and clinical depression. It was at Houston’s summer camp for LGBTQ teens, called This Side of the Rainbow, that Guthrie finally found comfort and acceptance, both as a camper and a counselor.

“I think people sometimes see these camps as a place where you talk about being gay all day,” Guthrie says. “The camp has a gay nucleus, but I liked it because it was more about doing activities where you learn self-acceptance and about being in community with like-minded people who you don’t have to explain yourself to. It’s about how you feel on the inside. Rainbow camp helped me find peace within myself.”

This Side of the Rainbow was created in 2016 by mental-health professionals Michael DeVoll, Michael Lesher, and Jeanie Low. They work with LGBTQ teens, and saw a need for therapeutic resources for these children and their families. The goal was to help vulnerable youth feel better about themselves in a society that so often shuns them.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, four in ten LGBTQ teens say the community in which they live is not accepting of them, and LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be physically abused by their peers. They feel more accepted online than in person, and their identity choice affects all areas of their lives, including schoolwork and friendships.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that 40 percent of respondents had attempted suicide in their lifetime—nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population at large. Of those trans respondents who attempted suicide, 34 percent said they did so before age 14; 39 percent between the age of 14 and 17; and 20 percent between the age 18 and 24.

The camp founders saw a need to combat all of this, and especially to create a physical community for the kids while also helping their parents understand them. “I never imagined when I was a teen that I would have any sense of community with folks who were like me,” De Voll says, adding that creating a safe space and a supportive community was paramount.

The camp consists of a variety of fun and creative therapeutic activities such as visual-art projects (ceramics, photography, book making, and drawing), meditation, drum circles, psychodrama, outdoor activities, yoga, walking a labyrinth, and much more. Some highlights of this year’s camp, set for July 16–21, include a kayaking trip on Buffalo Bayou and a panel discussion with college-age LGBTQ individuals. The name of the camp comes from the idea that while it’s nice to think about how lovely things might be “somewhere over the rainbow,” the founders are committed to helping make things better for LGBTQ youth on this side of the rainbow.

This Side of the Rainbow camp is for students in grades nine through twelve. The camp served eight LGBTQ youth in each of its first two years, but hopes to have 15-20 this year. The final day of the camp is designed for both the youth and their families.

The cost of the camp is $595, but scholarships are available, and no one will be turned away.

To donate to the camp’s scholarship fund, visit TinyURL.com/RainbowCamp2018. To register for the camp, visit ThisSideOfTheRainbow.org.

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Sarah Gish

Sarah Gish is a longtime LGBTQ ally and one of the co-founders of QFest. She is an artist and art car maker and is a champion of all things Houston, especially the arts. Her passion is to ignite lives through her IGNITE YOUR LIFE! (www.IgniteYourOwnLife.com) art project.
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