EL CERRITO, Calif. — In some ways, Rainbow Day Camp is very ordinary. Children arrive with a packed lunch, make friendship bracelets, play basketball, sing songs, and get silly. But it is also extraordinary.
At check-in each day, campers make a nametag with their pronoun of choice. Some opt for “she” or “he.” Or a combination of “she/he.” Or “they,” or no pronoun at all. Some change their name or pronouns daily, to see what feels right.
The camp in the San Francisco Bay Area city of El Cerrito caters to transgender and “gender fluid” children, ages 4 to 12, making it one of the only camps of its kind in the world open to preschoolers, experts say.
Enrollment has tripled to about 60 young campers since it opened three summers ago, with kids coming from as far as Los Angeles, Washington — even Africa.
Plans are underway to open a branch next summer in Colorado, and the camp has been contacted by parents and organizations in Atlanta, Seattle, and elsewhere interested in setting up similar programs.
Gender specialists say the camp’s growth reflects what they are seeing in gender clinics nationwide: increasing numbers of children coming out as transgender at young ages.
They credit the rise to greater openness and awareness of LGBT issues and parents tuning in earlier when a child shows signs of gender dysphoria, or distress about their gender.
“A decade ago, this camp wouldn’t have existed. Eventually, I do believe, it won’t be so innovative,” camp founder Sandra Collins said. “I didn’t know you could be transgender at a very young age. But my daughter knew for sure at 2.”
Collins’s experience as the mother of a transgender girl, now 9, inspired her to start the camp, and another for 13- to 17-year-olds called Camp Kickin’ It.
“A lot of these kids have been bullied and had trauma at school. This is a world where none of that exists, and they’re in the majority,” Collins said. “That’s a new experience for kids who are used to hiding and feeling small.”