Supporting the LGBTQIA+ Community at Camp

Ramah New England has been a leader in creating welcoming, inclusive and nurturing communities throughout our history. We are proud of the work we have done and continue to do to support the LGBTQIA+ community. Our community, including campers, their families, staff and alumni all are important to us, and our partnership with our families helps us create the best version of Ramah we can be. 

At Ramah, there are many values that are important to us, but the concepts of community, inclusion and the ideal that every human is created b’tzelem Elohim (in God’s image) represent the central forces that drive the practical decisions we make about running camp. Naturally, we view these values through the lens of being a Conservative Movement Jewish camp committed to core practices like observing Shabbat and Kashrut.  

Judaism, from its founding, has been a world-changing religion. It is the first religion that believed that each individual has value and worth. In a world where human life was cheap, Judaism stood in stark contrast. Judaism broadened the circle of who belonged, who counted and demanded that we cared for all in our community. Judaism believes that as we value and include more people, we are honoring God and we are elevating ourselves.  

We are cognizant of the copious research documenting the difficulties that many LGBTQIA+ youth face, and the positive impact that affirmation of their identities from the people and institutions in their lives can have. According to the Trevor Project 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, 41% of LGBTQIA young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with particularly high rates among transgender and nonbinary young people. However, the same study found that transgender and nonbinary youth who had access to gender-affirming spaces consistently had lower rates of attempting suicide and other negative mental health outcomes. In the context of the teen mental health crisis facing our country, we recognize the valuable opportunity we have to help campers from across the gender spectrum see that Ramah is a place that accepts them for who they are. 

Campers develop and mature throughout their time at camp. Our policies take in mind both those who outwardly identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and those who either are not ready to publicly discuss their identity or are unsure about their identity. In many cases, community affirmation of the LGBTQIA+ communities is even more critical in their feeling like they belong, are cared for and important.  

Current bunking principles:  

Camp Ramah is a living laboratory of Judaism, and we strive to take our principles and apply them in the real life of a children’s summer camp.  

We believe that the key to bunking is to work closely with a camper’s family to find the best placement for each camper. 

When parents fill out registration materials for camp, they check the box of the gender to which their camper identifies.  

When a camper’s gender identity does not match what they were assigned at birth or any of our current housing options, the parents and campers engage in a process with our camper care team to determine the best bunk assignment. 

Camp does not inform families if/when there are campers or staff who identify as LGBTQIA+ in their bunks. 

Once a camp session begins, campers do not change their bunk assignments.  

Camper gender and sexual identity: 

Camp will always share information with parents when we feel their health and safety is in question. At the same time, camp does not automatically inform parents if their child chooses to be called by a different name at camp or asks to use different pronouns at camp. We also do not inform about sexual preferences or relationships at camp unless there is a safety or rule concern. We feel this type of information is for the child to choose to share with whom they want. Camp policy is that romantic relationships should not enter the bunk.  

That being said, campers should understand (and we actively discuss this with them) that anything they do publicly at camp cannot be assumed to be confidential outside of camp.  

Other Things to Know About LGBTQIA+ and our Ramah Community: 

Keshet club is a social group for those who identify as LGBTQIA+ or as allies who wish to gather and support each other during free time at camp. Counselors host these get togethers (usually during free time on Shabbat) and are advised by our camper care team. We do not monitor who attends these meetings.  

We have had several campers and staff who identify as non-binary or transgender attending camp for a significant number of years. 

Creating a safe and vibrant community is part of our Jewish and overall programming. LGBTQIA+ inclusion is part of this, as is programming on relationships, friendship, consent, social exclusion, bullying, racial diversity and other topics. That is to say, we feel it is one of many important topics that receives an appropriate amount of attention at camp.  

Ongoing discussions: 

The Ramah New England Board of Directors, through its Wellness Committee and board meetings, advises and makes recommendations to the professional staff. 

The professional staff communicates with parents, staff, and mental health professionals to keep our policies current and to meet our community’s needs.  

Here are links to letters and statements we have made in the past: 

2022 Letter on LGBTQIA+ Inclusion 

2016 Letter of inclusion