Monday, August 14, 2017

Being an Ally: My Week With Colage

I got the opportunity this week to photograph a camp run by an organization called Colage. The camp is for children ages 7-18 who have LGBTQ parents. They help to give the kids a safe space, a place to make new friends, and the tools to go out into the world and deal with bullying. Within just a few hours I could see how much this organization and all of the wonderful people who work for it do for these kids.

I first arrived in Provincetown, MA on August 1st. My first assignment was to go to Bas Relief Park to photograph the kids having fun and playing games. I was greeted with smiling faces and counselors that genuinely looked like they were having fun with the kids. There were water games, relay races, and arts & crafts activities. The first thing that I noticed was the diversity among the campers. There were children of many different races. There was a good even mix between boys and girls as well. All of the kids were running and laughing, playing together as they should, and not caring what their friends looked like on the outside. There was no teasing, no bullying, no insults. Just pure fun and joy. The counselors worked hard to include everyone that wanted to be a part of the games that they were playing and making sure all of the kids got a fair turn. If there was a child who seemed to be having a rough time they made sure to talk with them to see what was wrong and offer up some ways of how they could feel better.

When the parents came to pick the kids up I saw a great mix of families. There were families with two mothers, some with two fathers, some with transgender parents. Some of the children had parents of different races or nationalities. One thing that was similar with all of these families was that it was clear that these children were loved and respected by their parents, whether they were related by blood or adoption. If only all of those who are opposed to LGBTQ couples getting married and adopting children could see how much love there is in these families...

Later that evening I attended a beach party for the families. They got to run around and play on the beach, hang out with the campers, have dinner, and make s'mores in the fire pits that were built. Kids were splashing about in the water, hanging out with their friends. Some parents joined them and played games with them in the water. Some parents stayed on the beach and watched their kids play while they spoke with other parents. It was a great event and everyone left smiling.

Wednesday morning was what really opened my eyes to just how much this organization does for the campers. I photographed a workshop that was for the younger children who were all the age of 7. They played some games together until everyone got into the room. Some played off to the side with each other as they drew pictures or had conversations. After that everyone got into a circle and they played a game called "Love my Colager" where one person got to be in the center and said, "I love my Colager who..." and then followed it with a trait or activity that they liked. It became very clear to me just how in touch with our changing political climate these kids were. There was a little boy who I swear is going to make a great politician some day. His favorite thing to do was attend rallies and protests. He would chant, "Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" and "Dump Trump!" He would get right into the center of the room and was very animated.

Now...I am sure that some of you are thinking that he is too young to really know what is going on and that this is just him copying his parents. But I could hear the conversations that some of these kids were having and you could tell that they are following what is going on. At the age of 7 they are watching the news and taking in everything that is happening in the world. They spoke about Russia, the election, North was crazy to me that they were so invested in this at such a young age, but that is kind of what we need right now isn't it? I don't like the term "woke" because I think it sounds strange, but these kids were just that. They were well aware of what was going on and how the current administration could possibly be threatening their families. Being in an LGTBQ family has introduced these kids to politics, the news, and human rights. Amazing, no?

The truly heartbreaking part of the day was hearing the stories from these kids about what people say to them about their family dynamic. Children would say that it was "weird" that they had two moms or two dads. They would ask the kids why they didn't have "normal" families. They would use derogatory terms to describe the Colagers' families which you could tell hurt the campers immensely. They love their families and wouldn't want them any other way but they still had to fight for what they felt is right. One thing that I did notice is that they were resilient as hell. The counselors taught them about ways to deal with bullying without being a bully themselves. They were taught to use positive words even in the face of negativity. Some of the lessons that they were taught are things that I took back with me and am trying to use myself to be a more positive influence.

On August 3rd a teen panel was held. A group of teens sat on a stage and answered questions from the audience. They spoke about how they deal with people telling them that their families weren't normal and how Colage has helped them deal with it. They were all so intelligent and positive. It was wonderful to hear how they have come so far in life and how they feel that their families are perfect the way they are. I had watched these teens helping the younger campers all week and it was so great to see how caring they were with the kids. You could see that they wanted more than anything else to make a difference and help give the campers the same positive experience that they had through the years.

In four days with the Colage crew I saw more love, more positivity, and more strength than I have seen in a long time. They were truly inspiring to be around and I loved every minute of it. I am so thankful that I was given the opportunity to photograph Family Week. Thank you Colage for all you do for these wonderful kids.

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