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Camp Indigo Point will bring LGBTQ youth together this summer

Pictured: A shot of a lake from the beach, trees in the background, picnic tables on grass in the foreground, kids in kayaks in the distance
Dan Grabel
Camp Indigo Point's campground is located in Makanda, Illinois.

Last fall, a group of St. Louisans came up with the idea to start a summer camp for LGBTQ youth. They thought their weeklong camp in Makanda, Illinois, would attract around 15 kids — but now, they have 90 from all over the country signed up and a waiting list.

“We have really been blown away by the response,” said Dan Grabel, one of the camp’s founders, “not only from the St. Louis community, but really nationwide.”

Grabel has been running summer camps with his business partner for 25 years, and now he’s taking on Camp Indigo Point. He and his team of five other leaders have spent the past few months planning for the camp’s debut. They’ll welcome kids between second and 11th grades and have classic camp activities like archery, swimming and kayaking. But they’ll also provide a space for LGBTQ youth to get closer to their community.

Grabel said on St. Louis on the Air that he was inspired to create this camp after working with a local organization called TransParent, which brings together parents of transgender kids. But, there was another personal connection, too.

“A camper about four years ago, who's a transgender kid, who was not really allowed to go to a couple of other camps that they applied to go to — his family reached out to us,” he said. “Our philosophy has always been running camps with an inclusive and welcoming environment. And so this kid came to camp and had a wonderful experience.”

Dan Grabel on founding Camp Indigo Point

The campground in southern Illinois might seem like a strange spot to some to host such an inclusive group. Grabel said he’d seen camps similar to Indigo Point cropping up on the coasts, but not so much in the Midwest. But, since announcing their camp, they’ve had families from 19 states reach out to them about enrollment this summer.

One parent, Adelaide Lancaster, is sending her two children to camp this summer from her home in Michigan. She was immediately interested in sending them to such a welcoming and inclusive environment.

“I am not sure that you can have too many affirming experiences, especially when you're a child, and especially in this environment, and how many attacks are really being levied against these kids and these families,” Lancaster, a former St. Louisan, said earlier this week. “So to be able to consistently give them an opportunity to be with other kids like them, and to be in an environment that is not just accepting and supportive, but really celebratory, is phenomenal.”

Grabel has also spent the past few months building a welcoming staff full of people who had great summer camp experiences growing up.

“These folks are PhD students, master's students. There's a couple of college professors, professionals in the LGBTQ community, some really qualified, cool people,” he said. “So I think they will really act as some pretty great role models and mentors for the campers.”

This summer is only the beginning of Camp Indigo Point — and Grabel sees a long future for the camp, full of expanded opportunities.

“We certainly intend to, obviously, run this week of camp this summer, as well as expand to offer reunions over the year back at camp. We'd love to have meetups in different cities that kids are coming from,” he said. “We will certainly offer more weeks of camp at our camp next summer. And we definitely see the opportunity to expand at possibly some other facilities around the country in the future, because there really has been a demand and a need that we've discovered.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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