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Queer and Trans Youth Summer Camp

Social Justice, Artistic Expression & Fun: A Harmonious Summer with QORDS

By Leah Shapiro

In May of 2012, the North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Amendment (known simply as Amendment One) was approved, defining marriage between a man and a woman as the only domestic legal union valid in the state. (A federal court later declared this ban unconstitutional in October 2014.) One of the many responses to this discriminatory act came in the form of an organization called QORDS.

“Our goals were to build something in North Carolina that celebrated southern queer families and youth, and provided somewhere that we could take up space, be joyful, talk about hard things, and use creative outlets to express our feelings about what we experience as queer and trans southern folk,” says Tavi Hancock, one of QORDS’ founders, along with Davis Hodge, Harper Ragin, and Cassy Dorff, all residents of Durham at the time.

Now in its fourth year, QORDS’ summer camp is a vehicle for expressing gender and sexuality, promoting an environment of self-discovery and social change. The name stands for Queer Oriented Radical Days of Summer and programming serves queer and trans youth ages 12–17. A 501c3 nonprofit organization, QORDS has chapters, or regional teams, in Greensboro, Asheville, Durham, and Virginia. Sites have varied over the years, but this year’s camp will once again take place at Haw River Summit, about three hours northeast of Asheville, August 14–19.

Tavi says the founders knew about the Queer Rock Camp in Olympia, Washington, and spoke with some of its organizers for ideas. “Queer Rock Camp was inspiring and helpful, but we weren’t trying to recreate what they do,” says Tavi. “We knew our camp would be different by very nature of being in the South versus the West Coast. We also play music at camp, but that’s not our primary focus nor what we spend most of our time doing.”

To date, this is the only camp of its kind in the South. While the majority of participants hail from the southeast, others have come from as far as Minnesota to attend.

This isn’t your traditional summer camp. There aren’t any swimming lessons. Instead, campers can take workshops such as “Black Lives Matter” and “Safe Sex and Consent.” Roth Doyle, a member of the Asheville regional team, shares, “We believe that our more thorough social justice programming puts youth at the forefront for social change.” Other activities may include arts and crafts, dance, plant walks and nature hikes, and canoeing. There’s also downtime for personal reflection.

During the weeklong camp, participants will learn the basic musical foundations for an instrument of their choosing, culminating in a concert open to the public. (They can also work on mastering an instrument they’ve already been playing.) On day one, they form bands and begin writing their own music. This year’s event will take place on August 19, from 6–8 p.m. at Artspace Uptown in Greensboro.

“Music is one of the best mediums of self-expression, creativity, and collaboration,” says Roth. “It is a way in which one’s voice can be heard and felt by others. Music is a tool that has been embraced by oppressed people throughout the centuries; it has the simultaneous ability to heal and resist. Anyone who has been to a great concert knows its power.”

Roth is one of many volunteers who help make QORDS a success. An educator and former co-curator of the Juniper Bends Reading Series, Reid Drake volunteered with QORDs for the first time last summer, teaching a poetry and lyric writing workshop with Lockie Hunter. “The workshop was all great and well, but it was after the workshop when I felt the most inspired by the campers’ creativity,” says Reid. “Lockie and I both got to work with one of the camp bands in brainstorming lyrics to the sweetest song about a queer homecoming date I have ever heard. Sitting with those campers, laughing at their sharp senses of humor, and seeing their creativity come out on the pages of their notebooks made me feel like I was wrong to ever have assumed that I would teach these young folks anything. Clearly they were teaching me.”

While camp registration is closed, volunteers are always welcome to sign up. Roth says, “We always need help with flyering around town for events, collecting donations from local vendors, and reaching out to potential campers throughout the region. If you have a skill, we can use your support!”

Although camp registration is closed, there are two upcoming fundraisers to support the work of QORDS. On Saturday, July 2, O’Henry’s in downtown Asheville will host a celebration beginning at 9 p.m. The next day, on July 3, The Asheville Jewish Community Center will host a pool party and ice cream social, from 4–7 p.m., to conclude Pride Week. RSVP to lgbtqjew@gmail.com by July 2. Entrance to both events is by donation.

For more information on QORDS, including volunteer opportunities, email qordsavl@gmail.com or visit qords.org.

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