University of Calgary

Education prof participates in summer camp for LGBTQ youth

UToday HomeAugust 14, 2013

Tonya Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary,  talks with campers during a session at Camp fYrefly. Photo courtesy Tet Millaire, Camp fYreflyTonya Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary, talks with campers during a session at Camp fYrefly. Photo courtesy Tet Millaire, Camp fYreflySummer camps come in all forms, and it’s pretty easy to find programs centering on sports, arts, nature, science, dance and drama, or some other common activity.

Rarely is there a camp focusing on sexual identity and support for the development of self-realization and leadership in youth from marginalized groups.

Each year, Alberta’s Camp fYrefly provides leadership camps for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth. While the camps have been held in the Edmonton area for 10 years, this summer the first camp was offered in the Calgary area for participants from southern Alberta.

“Camp fYrefly’s name is spelled with the Capital ‘Y’ to emphasize that this program is about the youth who attend,” explains Tonya Callaghan. “The camp’s mascot is a firefly because its luminescence is a fitting metaphor for the camp’s goal of helping young campers find ways to keep their own inner light shining through difficult times in a homophobic culture.”

Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, spent time as a teacher and witnessed, first hand, the manner in which some schools handled both LGBTQ students and faculty; she returned to graduate school and focused her research on how some publicly funded Catholic school districts in Canada interpret the legal, professional, and ethical responsibilities to protect all students and to maintain safe, caring, and inclusive learning environments.

Callaghan has been involved with Camp fYrefly in various ways since its inception at the University of Alberta in 2004, when she was at that campus completing a Master's in educational policy studies.

The camp, an educational outreach program at the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, is an educational, social, and personal learning retreat for LGBTQ and allied youth. It focuses on building and nurturing their leadership potential and personal resiliency in an effort to help them learn how to make significant contributions to their own lives and to their schools, home/group-home environments, and communities. The camp is designed for youth between the ages of 14 and 24, and aims to help motivate participants to become leaders in their own communities, thereby passing on their leadership skills to the youth that come after them.

Callaghan met some of the Calgary Camp fYrefly team last winter when they attended a public talk she gave as part of the Faculty of Education’s Engaging New Ideas in Education lecture series. Callaghan was asked to speak to the campers attending the Calgary-area camp.

“Unfortunately, queer youth do not receive positive information about non-heterosexuality in the publicly funded school system – sexual orientation and gender identity are topics that do not appear in the Alberta Program of Studies – and this camp is an opportunity to learn to unlearn the negative messages that students absorb about non-heterosexuality in school.”

The 45 campers in the Calgary program attend sessions focused on topics such as recognizing healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual health, career planning, and emotional and psychological well-being.

“Youth are leading the revolution against homophobia in Catholic schools, and it is vitally important to share this new finding with youth who are poised to become leaders in their local communities throughout southern Alberta.”


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