Featured Resource: Tools for Working Outside Traditional Gender Roles – OUT There Adventures
Given the current social landscape, many members of the queer community (including queer young people) make the move from rural America to urban America in hopes of finding an increased access to resources and a stronger community. For queer youth who live in rural areas, the Internet often replaces urban centers as a place to access resources and community. Although urbanization and the Internet can increase certain aspects of the quality of life for queer youth, the benefits can be limited.
According to the National Wildlife Federation the average American youth spends less than 30 minutes a day outside, even though time spent outside has be linked to increases in everything from standardized test scores to Vitamin D levels and decreases in ADHD symptoms, depression and anxiety. Outdoor play also protects children’s emotional development, cultivates kindness, enhances social interactions and increases value of community as well close relationships. Given the economic disparities, violence and lack of accesses to resources faced by queer people in addition to isolation and self-urbanization, the question of how queer people are connecting to the outdoors begs to be asked.
According to the American Camp Association, there are over 12,000 day and residential camps in the United States. To the best of our knowledge, there are less than a dozen camps in the country that specifically serve queer young people. Of these dozen or so, OTA is the only organization created to provide expedition oriented programming specifically tailored for queer young people.
OTA’s programming is founded in the rapidly developing field of experiential education. At its core, experiential education focuses on learning through doing upon reflection. Research in this field has shown that this is not only a successful way to teach traditional lessons found in schools, but also an impactful way of cultivating the skills necessary in a healthy and happy society such as leadership, resiliency, self-efficacy, communication and problem solving.
In addition to its roots in experiential education, OTA’s programming also places an emphasis on positive youth development (PYD). Positive Youth Development practices focus on a strengths-based approach to youth work, where instructors guide participants to recognize their own abilities and resources in the face of challenge. We believe that offering LGBTQ youth a physical challenge in a supportive environment will prepare them for emotional challenges they may experience in other parts of their life. By removing participants from their every day lives and placing them in a situation with like minded peers, supportive adults and a challenging but rewarding experience, OTA’s wilderness trips offer a unique opportunity for these youth to create and exist within a community that focuses on the positives.