Kanawana breaks down gender barriers with third sleeping option

Adding a "gender expansive" tent creates an inclusive and accepting environment for all campers

Like many established sleepaway camps, the YMCA’s Camp Kanawana has always had separate accommodations for boys and girls. Now, for the first time, there will be a third option: a co-ed “gender-expansive” tent, which will be open to all.

According to Camp Director Kate Taylor, Kanawana is not the first camp in the province to add such a tent for children who do not wish to be sorted by gender. The idea is gaining steam within the sleepaway camp world, she said.

“I’m having a conference call next week with a whole bunch of folks from the diversity and inclusion group of the YMCA and that’s one of the topics that we will be talking about,” she said. “A number of camps want to put forward the option of gender-expansive cabins.”

Taylor said the addition is part of a gradual evolution to create an inclusive and accepting environment for all campers. It will accommodate children who are transgender, non-binary and those who don’t identify with their apparent gender. In the past, Kanawana has welcomed these campers but left the decision as to which tent (boys or girls) they would sleep in up to the children and their parents.

Taylor said the camp will allow any camper to choose to sleep in the gender-expansive tent, and that dividing by gender is becoming increasingly irrelevant at Kanawana. She noted that male counsellors may work with girls (and vice-versa), and both boys and girls participate in all camp activities, so the choice of tent is purely about which sleeping environment feels most comfortable for campers.

She said some campers who have friends of the opposite gender have complained in the past that they don’t get to spend enough time with those friends because the tents are on the other side of the camp. “So this is an option for them too.”

In all cases, there is at least one (sometimes two) staff member who sleeps in the tents with the campers.

Campers range in age from 7 to 16, but Taylor said so far it has mainly been teen-aged campers who have requested a gender-expansive tent.  “This is our beta test year,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes. If the demand extends to juniors, I’ll be putting it into place for next year.”

For more information, visit ymcaquebec.org.