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It Gets Better…but when?

Werklund students say LGBTQ kids shouldn’t have to wait

The Werklund contingent at the year’s Camp fYrefly included undergraduate students David Erickson and Erin Boukall (left and right) and Assistant Professor Tonya Callaghan - Photo by David Erickson

August 1, 2014 - When it comes to summer jobs, a  frequent option for university students is to sign up to work at a summer camp, have a little fun, make a bit of money, and maybe learn a thing or two in the process.

Tonya Callaghan has been connected to Camp fYrefly for some time. The assistant professor in the Werklund School of Education learned about the camp for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) teens while she was studying for her graduate degree in Edmonton.  In this Quick Chat, she talks about how Camp fYrefly began, what it does and why it’s important.

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What if the lessons learned are life-changing--for both the student leaders and the campers with whom they work?

For two Werklund School of Education undergrads, that’s exactly what happened when they signed up to support  Camp fYrefly Calgary, a program that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth learn more about themselves in a safe space .

Erin Boukall and David Erickson were both familiar with the phrase “it gets better”, which is attached to the anti-bullying movement that began in the United States four years ago. The campaign was begun to let LGBTQ students—and anyone who was being harassed or bullied in and out of school—know that their individual situations do eventually get better.

But according to the students, “eventually” is not soon enough.   So both decided they wanted to take part in the four day camp this year, and each did it for reasons that were both professional and personal.  

For Boukall, who was Assistant Camp Coordinator and the Program Assistant Team Lead through her job at the Calgary Sexual Health Centre (a partner in the Calgary camp), the catalyst was her younger sister, who came out in high school.  She struggled to be accepted and was often subjected to bullying and harassment. 

Boukall says as a future teacher, she wants to do all she can to be an ally to her students and to create safe spaces for all of them.

“As a part of our diversity class in the Werklund School, we were encouraged to learn more about a community other than our own,” she explains, “so I chose to learn about Calgary's LGBTQ community, as I wanted to support my sister.”

David Erickson says he wished there was something like fYrefly when he was a teen.  “For me, there was nothing like fYrefly when I was growing up--no camp that I could go to where I was in the majority.”

And Erickson, who worked as a Youth Leader and Program Assistant, says he learned some very valuable lessons.   “Our schools and classrooms must be safe places for all students and all teachers should be working to make sure that is a reality. As well, it reminds me how important it is to connect with students. And it’s just  the simple fact that one person can make the difference in a young persons’ life.”

Says Erickson, “’It gets better’ is a later, down-the-road thing. This camp is working not only to change the lives of the campers, but those around them in their families, schools and communities and is helping to make these places safer and happier for LGBTQ youth now. Not later.”

And Boukall agrees. “I have learned throughout my involvement with fYrefly that while the slogan ‘it gets better’  is well intended, no one should have to wait--it should be better now and together we can make it happen.”