FARMINGTON — University of Maine at Farmington was host to Equality Maine’s leadership camp for LGBTQ+ teenagers in early August.

Equality Maine (EQME) is an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, the oldest and largest LGBTQ+ organization in the state.

The group formed in 1984 following the murder of Charlie Howard, a 23-year-old man who was killed in Bangor because he was gay. The mission of EQME is to “secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Maine through political action, community organizing, education, and collaboration.”

A part of that community organizing, EQME hosted the New Leaders Project camp at the UMF the first week of August “to connect young LGBTQ people and allies together, so they felt connected to a larger community, especially in a big state like Maine,” EQME Executive Director Gia Drew said in an interview.

The camp was for teenagers 12 to 17 years old, drawing people from all over the state of Maine – 14 of Maine’s 16 counties.

“The idea was to bring young people together so people felt connected and more safe, to provide some space for personal growth, and some leadership skills for whatever they want to do, whether they want to do advocacy on LGBTQ [issues], or maybe they’re passionate about the climate … so they are better informed on how to do that in their local communities as they grow up,” Drew said.


Additionally, the camp offered the campers a place to celebrate their identity in a safe space.

Drew described the camp as a place for “queer joy or LGBTQ happiness” because “a lot of traditional summer camps are not safe for LGBTQ youth.”

Drew, a transgender woman, said when she went to camp 40 years ago, “I had to keep my identity a secret.”

“We want to make sure kids get this same experience as anybody else when they go to camp,” Drew said. “I remember trying to figure out who I was during this age bracket. It’s important to give young people a space to find who they are and a space to connect and learn from one another.”

As a result, the camp isn’t just a place for fostering leadership and learning how to do advocacy work.

It’s a place for “fun things,” Drew said, such as arts and crafts, dancing, music, team building, sports, etc.


EQME invited local artists, members of the local Audubon society to do some birdwatching, and farmers to run programs with the campers.

The campers also had the opportunity to learn about LGBTQ+ culture, such as the history of ballroom with LGBTQ+ people of color leading the programming.

There was a bevvy of outdoor activities also planned, however the EQME campers were in Farmington during the August heatwave.

But the campers still made it down to the Sandy River, did some local hikes and other outdoor activities on Prescott Field.

The New Leaders Project Camp started in 2014 as a day camp where older teenagers met one day a week for six weeks. Overtime, that transitioned to a week-long overnight camp in 2017 in order to “give our kids the opportunity to get to know each other better,” Drew said.

EQME began partnering with colleges, which is how the New Leaders Project Camp ended up at UMF this year. Originally, UMF was supposed to host the camp in 2020, but it was postponed due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.


“It was exciting to come to Franklin County,” Drew said.

Drew said that the New Leaders Project Camp was already planned at UMF in advance. However, attending the first Farmington Pride Festival in June “reassured” her that Farmington was the right place to host the camp this year.

“I felt really good there and I felt safe going into that part of [Maine],” Drew said.

In addition to EQME’s camp, UMF was concurrently hosting other camps and programs that brought in a couple of hundred other people, such as Habitat for Humanity and a church group.

As a result, Drew said the campers had the opportunity to connect with different groups, as well.

Drew feels what’s most special about the camp is that it creates a safe space where the campers can let go and let their guards down.

The camp also offered the opportunity to “give kids the skills they need to navigate a world that maybe is a little bit more unwelcoming.”

“Being able to be silly in a safe space is really important. I think not all everyone gets to do that. [It’s important] to make sure that young people who are LGBTQ or questioning their identity or are allies have a place to connect safely,” Drew said. “It’s a chance to have fun, learn some things about yourself … be physically active … and encourage self care.”

While “being LGBTQ can be hard,” Drew is confident this year’s campers left with the confidence, self-love, self-empowerment and leadership skills that can help them thrive.

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