Why does VBYC need a policy about gender inclusion?

VBYC’s mission is to serve all youth by providing opportunities for mental, physical, and spiritual growth. Our core values include respect, inclusion, and a commitment to be “camper first.” We believe an inclusive environment allows us as a Camp community to align with our core values and helps us to achieve our mission.

Young people often struggle to feel accepted in many places and often feel that it is unacceptable to express themselves for who they are as an individual. We believe it is our responsibility as a youth serving organization to create an environment in which people of all races, nationalities, ethnicities, sexes, ages, abilities, religions, sexual orientation, and gender identities can come together to play and learn collaboratively and respectfully.

LGBTQ+ youth often receive messages from the world around them that who are is not welcome or acceptable. Alienation of LGBTQ+ youth can be overt, like bullying, which is already addressed in the Friendship Policy at VBYC. It can also be unintentional with things like cabin assignments, pronoun use, bathroom designations, and the very common practice of dividing campers into groups of boys and girls for activities for no reason other than expediency.

We feel it is important to address this issue and set an example making sure that all campers are welcome and respected within our Camp and in our community.


What are your cabin options? Will boys and girls be sleeping in the same cabins?

Most will not.  As a way to support all campers and be sure that everyone feels safe while they are here at camp, we offer both gendered and non-gendered cabins at each session. While VBYC has been working with families on a case-by-case basis for the last 10 years, co-ed cabins became a formal option on our application for the 2022 Camp season. We had 1 to 2 co-ed cabins at every session in 2022.

The gender-inclusive cabin option is opt-in only. If it’s not something your camper is interested in, simply select one of the gendered cabin options when completing their application. Campers who choose the co-ed cabin option will be assigned to a cabin that will have others who made the same choice, regardless of sex.

The number of each cabin option depends on the make-up of the campers enrolled in the session. While our goal is to have a gender inclusive cabin at every session, the availability depends on how many campers are interested. If your camper is only interested in the gender-inclusive cabin, and we don’t have enough families selecting that option to build one, we will contact you before the session starts to make a plan for how to proceed.

What will the gender of the co-ed cabin counselor be? 

The counselor of the co-ed cabin is largely determined by counselor availability for the session. Counselors who indicate that they are willing to counsel a co-ed cabin receive extra instruction during training to ensure they are prepared to lead a co-ed cabin. Each counselor is always assigned a staff advisor to act as a mentor for the week. We make every effort to assign a staff advisor to the co-ed cabin that is a different gender than the counselor to help provide multiple perspectives and role models for the campers in the cabin. Our existing policies about camper supervision and adult ratios are still in place which strictly prohibits one-on-one monitoring of any camper in any private/secluded spaces including the cabin and bathrooms.

The same policy stands for non-male counselors who counsel male cabins. Due to counselor availability and a limited male counselor pool, the counselor of your male camper’s cabin may not be male. Please be assured that there are male staff role models to advise the counselor and to address any concerns that may arise.  VBYC supports counselors and staff of all genders.

How does this policy impact camper supervision?

All campers are supervised, having staff and counselors present and organizing their activities 24 hours a day. If they are not sleeping, using the restroom, or possibly with the health officer, campers are actively engaged and participating in activities. The cabin group campers are in will not change what they do, when they do it, or how our staff interacts with them.

What about bathrooms and changing?

Changing spaces are provided in the bathhouse or the lodge bathrooms in the form of stalls or showers. Campers are able to use the restroom of the gender they identify with.  A single stall restroom is also available on site. All conventional social norms about respect, modesty, and civility apply. If campers use a different bathroom than their counselor at personal clean up time, other counselors/staff members are stationed at the bathhouse and lodge to provide supervision and assistance as needed.

My camper is transgender. Do they have to be in the co-ed cabin?

All families are given the option to select from the following cabin options: Boy, Girl, or Gender Inclusive Co-ed. We would love to discuss anything regarding your camper with you. If you are unsure at all, please feel free to contact us! We will also reach out if we are unsure of any information you have provided.

My camper is gay, should they be in the co-ed cabin?

All campers are welcome to choose the cabin option(s) that feels most comfortable for them. Cabin assignments are made to create a safe and comfortable place to call home for a week; sexuality is not a factor in this decision at all. We assume gay campers have been participating in camp and have been assigned to the same gender cabins for years whether or not they have identified themselves. If a co-ed cabin sounds like a comfortable housing option to your camper, then that’s great! If a gendered cabin option is most comfortable, that’s great too!

I think my camper may be interested in being in the co-ed cabin. Are there any restrictions on who can sign up for that cabin?

All families are invited to discuss the options with their camper(s) and to select whichever cabin option(s) they would feel comfortable with! All campers are welcome to opt-in to the co-ed cabin, regardless of gender or whether or not they are transgender.

What are your pronoun policies?

Camp staff will respect the pronouns the campers choose for themselves. In the camp registration form, there is a field to list the camper’s pronouns. Our staff will do their best to use them and model to the other campers what it looks like to treat each other with respect. Respect is a core value at VBYC, and it is important that all members of our Camp community feel respected. Intentional or malicious use of the wrong pronouns to antagonize others will not be tolerated.

Do you expect to lose registrations due to this policy?

We understand it is possible that by choosing to formalize a long-standing practice of inclusion, some folks may decide Van Buren Youth Camp is not for their family. Being transparent about the policies that align with our core values in order to continue cultivating a welcoming and supportive environment for all campers, staff, and guests is very important to us. We believe that it is worth the risk. By having an open door for all individuals, we continue to be dedicated to our mission of serving youth by providing opportunities for mental, physical, and spiritual growth.