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New Hampshire backtracks on transgender camper policy

Youth camps may soon need to supply more detailed procedures Images

New Hampshire backtracks on transgender camper policy

A new state measure that would have required all youth camps in New Hampshire to have detailed plans regarding transgender accommodations was quietly pulled back last week.

In a Zoom meeting on Dec. 8, Terri Peck, a representative from the state’s Youth Recreation Camp Licensing office, gave a presentation to about a dozen youth camp directors, noting the most common problems state inspectors saw during their safety checks. Among the top citations—insufficient staff background checks, missing a local fire inspection, and not having a transgender policy on file.

New Hampshire’s Department of Health and Human Services currently requires youth camps to have a written policy addressing transgender and gender non-conforming campers and staff. But according to current rules, that policy could be “as general or as specific as the youth recreation camp owner wants it to be.”

If they were to go into effect, the new regulations would no longer permit camp directors to be “as general” as they want the policy to be. Peck mentioned six additional rules to the transgender policy, including a requirement to list procedures showing how the camp would determine housing assignments, bathroom access, and staff training for campers who identify as transgender or non-binary.

Both the recorded Zoom meeting announcing the new policy and the presentation listing the new rules were posted to the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association website shortly after the meeting. But last Thursday, after WORLD made inquiries, both the meeting video and the presentation slides disappeared from the site.

Jake Leon, director of communications for the state’s Health and Human Services, said in a statement, “The information related to transgender policies was inaccurate, and the Department is looking into this miscommunication. The State will not be issuing guidance to camps regarding their transgender policies. We regret this miscommunication.”

Ken Robbins, a representative of the New Hampshire Camp Directors Association, who regularly works with the state’s camp licensing office, said the presentation was an “informal presentation about youth camp licensing” and the rules were shared as more of a “draft.” He emphasized that the state isn’t telling camps how to think about transgender campers, or even how to address it.

“If a camp said you need shoes, for example, and another camp said you don’t need shoes, HHS isn’t saying you need to have a position on it, but just you need a policy in place. You have to have thought about this.” said Robbins, who’s also a director for Camp Kabeyun, an all-boys camp in Alton, N.H.

The American Camping Association, a well-known national camp accreditation program, said its camp licensing process is much the same. Kyle Winkel, a spokesman for the association, wrote in an email, “Camps are given the choice to independently decide who they can and cannot serve. We believe there is a camp for every child, but not every camp is the right fit for every child.”

Most camp directors I spoke with in New Hampshire were unaware of the updated transgender policy and didn’t want to comment on a policy that wasn’t in place.

Don Johnson, who runs Lutheran Outdoor Ministries, an association of camps and other recreational groups connected with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, admitted it was unusual for a state’s health and human services department to ask for a transgender policy. Usually, states are more concerned about the physical aspects of the camp property and employee qualifications, so inspectors look at fire hazards, food safety, and staff background checks.

Johnson is right that a transgender camper policy is unusual. New Hampshire is currently the only state in New England with a rule on the books that requires all youth camps to have a written transgender policy. In fact, camp licensing requirements for Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island do not even mention transgender.

Johnson, who was a camp director for Camp Calumet in Freedom, N.H., welcomed the possibility of a more robust transgender policy. He said it helps them as a church camp fulfill its mission as a “Place for Everyone Around the Campfire.”

But more conservative Christian ministries have expressed concern that such policies could soon infringe on their beliefs.

Wallace Anderson, executive director of Ridge Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Brevard, N.C., and Cono, Iowa, says that even though they’re not in New Hampshire, the potential for transgender campers presents a dilemma for their camps, both owned and governed by the Presbyterian Church in America. The denomination wants to welcome all campers, but also follows a Biblical directive on males and females as distinct and unchangeable.

He said the siblings of a 12-year-old boy transitioning to a female recently attended a weekly youth group meeting. If the 12-year-old decided to join an overnight camp, Anderson admits Ridge Haven is not currently prepared to accommodate the child.

“How do we practically bear witness to the message of the gospel for someone struggling with this issue, while continuing to honor God’s design for male and female?” Anderson said.

Anderson said they don’t want to turn away any child from their camp. So if transgender campers came to camp, he can see staff agreeing to use chosen pronouns and names, but would still ask them to use the bathroom aligned with their biological sex. An overnight camp, though, would be almost impossible without compromising their beliefs.

“I hope we can love kids while maintaining our Biblical principle of biological male and female,” he said.

Juliana Chan Erikson

Juliana is a correspondent covering marriage, family, and sexuality as part of WORLD’s Relations beat. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C., metro area with her husband and three children.

Thank you for your careful research and interesting presentations. —Clarke

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