In August of this year, the Midwest's premier camp CampOut hosted a three-day fun-filled camping adventure for gay and lesbian families. We spoke to two gay dad families to hear about their experience and to get our community excited for next year’s CampOut Family Camp.
Brandon, 34, and David, 29, from Troy, Michigan, attended the camp with their 2-year-old daughter. Kent, 46, and Diego, 37, have two boys aged 5 and 1, and they live in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Gays With Kids: Where did you hear about CampOut?
Brandon and David: We heard about CampOut from friends of ours, Jeff Foust and Jake Zinke. They had told us about another two couples that they knew would also be attending. We went to meet new families like ours. We were curious about what a weekend like this would be like. We knew our daughter would have a blast with all of the activities.
Kent and Diego: We heard about CampOut through Family Equality Council (FEC). FEC partnered with CampOut for the inaugural family camp and will again for the 2017 camp. We were involved early on as an FEC representative and helped promote CampOut to other families. We also co-facilitated pre-camp training to provide some guidance to CampOut staff and counselors as they prepared to welcome us and other LGBTQ parents and their kids.
Diego and Kent with their two boys
Gays With Kids: What were some of the major reasons for your family's attendance?
Brandon and David: CampOut offered amazing food (not your typical camp fare); swimming (lake AND pool), horse back riding (for ages 5 and up I believe), archery, rock climbing, tennis, various exercise activities, recording studio, games, crafts, group activities including fun and light-hearted competitions, babysitting services, parents evening events (including wine and beer). Camp fires and sing-alongs. Boating. Tubing. GREAT staff. And much much more. I’m sure I'm missing some!
Kent and Diego: We find tremendous value in events where LGBTQ parents and their kids gather for camaraderie and community building. Families like ours are exposed to a steady stream of images and messages on a daily basis that remind us we are “different.” It’s deeply meaningful for us and for our kids to be around other families with LGBTQ-identified parents in a safe, supportive space. Plus, we are a very active, adventurous family that likes to try new things and have fun. CampOut certainly presented an array of opportunities for family fun.
Brandon and David with their daughter
Gays With Kids: What kind of activities did CampOut offer families?
Kent and Diego: Staff specialists supervised over 20 different activities including water sports (swimming, water trampolines, canoeing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, sailing, waterskiing and tubing), archery and riflery, horseback riding, rock climbing (including a giant swing), golf, tennis, and basketball, arts and crafts, and more. They even have a professional recording studio where campers can try out different instruments. Everything was included with our camp registration so it was a great opportunity to try something new, yet we also didn’t hesitate moving on to a new activity when something else drew our attention.
The staff also coordinated group activities each evening including a community campfire, Top Chef-style “cooking” competition (this year was a cake decorating contest, which our family won!), and a camp obstacle course.
Top Chef-style cake decorating competition
There was a structure to the day with group meal times, and open activity time, but there also was plenty of opportunity for campers to do their own thing and just relax, if that’s what they chose. Our family kept plenty busy moving from activity to activity, but some campers enjoyed a slower pace with time at the beach, arts and crafts, or simply getting to know other families.
The Lewandowski-Scott family Camp Out photo
Gays With Kids: How did they accommodate kids of different ages?
Kent and Diego: A few of the activities like horseback riding had a minimum age requirement, but for the most part, campers of all ages and abilities were accommodated. It sounds a bit cliché, but there truly was something for everyone.
Brandon and David: Babysitting was also available for a nominal charge for kids younger than 5. Kids 5 and over were able to play together in the lodge for free. There were activities and events for kids of all ages.
Gays With Kids: Did they offer any activities just for parents, and if so, what were they and did you join in?
Brandon and David: There were evening events for parents, including wine, beer and appetizers. We did partake in these. It was nice to be able to just sit and socialize, knowing our kids were being taken care of for us.
Diego with his son Lucas enjoying archery
Kent and Diego: The staff and counselors hosted a parents’ night out each night with complimentary refreshments and beverages. It was a wonderful opportunity to unwind and connect with other LGBTQ parents. Supervised evening activities were offered for campers age 5 and up, and affordable in-cabin childcare was available for younger campers.
We requested in-cabin childcare for a few hours on two of the nights, and felt perfectly comfortable leaving our 5-year-old and 1-year-old in the care of one of the camp counselors, many of who were international college-age students hailing from various parts of the world. We opted to make our own campfire at our cabin the other night.
A few families also planned their own in-cabin activities to hang out as a group with their kids.
Family Equality Council also facilitated two gatherings called Parent Cafés, which gave parents another opportunity to connect for community building.
Gays With Kids: What was your family's favorite thing about Camp Out?
Brandon and David: Our daughter loved the swimming the most. She swam every day and never wanted to get out of the lake.
Kent and Diego: It’s difficult to choose just one favorite thing about our CampOut experience. We truly enjoyed having time as a family and exposing our kids to new activities, but I think the most rewarding aspect for us was the palpable sense of community and unconditional acceptance. There’s something so special about being around other families with LGBTQ-identified parents, especially for kids who are often the only one in their classroom or peer group with LGBTQ parents. I can’t think of a single moment when we didn’t feel welcomed, respected, and surrounded by support.
Brandon and David enjoying the lake activities with their daughter
Gays With Kids: Why would you recommend Camp Out to other gay dad families and why/why not?
Brandon and David: We are SO excited about CampOut. I am trying to be the best advocate I can be for the camp. It really was wonderful for both of us dads, but we really all had a great time together, as a family. Our daughter was so happy and just loved it.
Kent and Diego: CampOut exceeded our expectations from the moment we arrived until we said our final goodbyes. Our family didn’t have any experience with youth sleepover camps so we didn’t quite know what to expect. Everything was top-notch from the facilities and food to the outstanding staff and variety of activities for all ages. We made a lot of great memories and new friends with whom we’ve stayed in touch via social media and plan to get to know better throughout the coming year and see each other at next year’s CampOut.
Gays With Kids: Will you be attending next year's Camp Out?
Brandon and David: We are already registered for next year and cannot wait. We have since socialized with some of the dads we met, but look forward to seeing some of the other families next year, who are not in the state.
Kent and Diego: Yes, we are definitely planning to attend next year. In fact, we have already registered. CampOut likely will become an annual getaway for our family.
Love-Ramirez family CampOut photo