In 2018, Rainbow Camp, a safe summer camp for LGBTQIA2S+ young people and allied youth, supported by The United Church of Canada, was a huge success. The year was a milestone for us: we moved to a different location in Thessalon, Ont., and through the generosity of TD Bank were able to launch a national awareness campaign. But unknown to us, national recognition comes with complications.
Five days before our campers started to arrive, we were launched into uncharted waters. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) called to say that a death threat had been issued against Rainbow Camp on one of their [TD Bank’s] social media threads and reported to the authorities. The post stated that there was going to be a mass shooting at Rainbow Camp.
We were quickly thrown into chaos. The OPP outlines what they thought we should follow as precautionary measures, while I reached out to the national church and other camps to see how they would handle a situation such as this—which no other United Church camp has ever faced. The OPP offered on-site staff members to check campers when they arrived, police dogs, and other means through which we could be prepared in case something did happen.
To make a long story short, the OPP knew within 24 hours where the writer of the post lived and the age of the person. We were assured that the threat was under control and we could resume our regular camping and training schedule.
No camp should ever have to go through something like this. No child should ever live in fear because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Hatred, whether expressed through graffiti, verbal bullying, or physical violence, is fed both by the insecurity of the individual making the threat, and the homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia they have learned in society and, yes, in churches. This is all too real in the lives of LGBTQIA2S+ youth, their families, and allies. (Find out more about why becoming an Affirming Ministry is important below.)
Learn more about Rainbow Camp and the incredible work it does.
—Harry Stewart, Chairperson of Welcome Friend Association’s Rainbow Camp
We’re Already Welcoming! Why Become Affirming?
Many United Church ministries and people feel they already welcome everyone and wonder why they need to become an Affirming Ministry.
LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit people have experienced condemnation, exclusion, and hatred within Christian communities, leaving them distrustful of Christianity in general. When teens come out as LGBTQIA2S+ they continue to be kicked out of Christian camps, homes, and churches. A disproportionate number attempt or die by suicide. Many still live in closets of shame or fear.
By becoming an Affirming Ministry you make a public, intentional, and explicit statement that you celebrate and honour LGBTQIA2S+ people. While there are dangers associated with publicly "coming out" as affirming, it is less dangerous for Affirming Ministries than it is for LGBTQIA2S+ people themselves. Like a lighthouse, Affirming Ministries make it clear to LGBTQIA2S+ people that they can safely walk through your doors and be affirmed.
Working for justice on sexual or gender issues integrates with other work for justice—including anti-racism or economic justice. To be Affirming is to be on a journey for greater justice for all the earth. Learn more at Affirm United.
—Jordan Sullivan, Ministry Partnership Animator in the General Council Office
Originally published as "Rainbow Camp Faces a Death Threat," Mandate, Winter 2019 issue, page 7. You can subscribe to Mandate magazine by contacting UCRD online or at 1-800-288-7365.