By Jon Branfman
When I first came to Camp Harlam in 2001 at age 11, I never imagined that Harlam would one day have an “LGBTQ Working Group,” or that I’d get to join it. From my first summer in Arava to my last summer as a cabin counselor (2009), I sensed that hiding my gay identity was necessary to stay comfortable and accepted at camp. I’m so proud to report, though, that Camp Harlam has embraced LGBTQ inclusion over the past five years and is proactively working to make camp truly welcoming for campers and staff of all genders and orientations. I got to glimpse these changes when I returned to camp as Galil unit head in 2014-2015, and now I’m excited to share some of Harlam’s next steps with you.
The LGBTQ Working Group is collaborating with Harlam’s Professional Staff to rethink and develop the camp’s staff training, communication style, programming, and layout to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. The group is made up of more than twenty alumni, both LGBTQ and straight/cisgender, who’ve attended Harlam as campers, staff, or as parents of campers over a range of different years and generations. After an initial phone meeting in December 2017 introducing ourselves and creating a vision for our work, we split into committees focusing on different areas of camp life. Examples include the language and look of our website and our Open and Safe statement that is shared with all enrolled families in the weeks leading up to camp; educational programs for campers and staff; updating traditional Maccabiah activities that have been separated by gender; and providing housing and bathrooms for campers who transgender and/or gender-nonbinary. We’re also considering if and how to bring age-appropriate lessons and activities about LGBTQ Pride into camp life.
Harlam’s professional staff, the LGBTQ Working Group, and our Camp Council are excited for this upcoming work. This growth will not only make Harlam a more welcoming place, but also continue Harlam’s tradition as a leader in Jewish camping. Stay tuned for more updates and please let us know if you’d like to participate in future meetings.
Jon Branfman has enjoyed ten summers at Harlam as a camper, CIT, cabin counselor, and unit head. He is now a doctoral student in Gender Studies at the Ohio State University. Jon also recently published the children’s book “You Be You!” which explains gender diversity, romantic diversity, and family diversity for kids.