TAMPA, Fla. — A local youth summer camp is making changes after several bills were recently signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The changes to their operations are to protect themselves.
"I'm really grateful to know that, of course, the top priority, you know, is the safety of the campers, while also not causing an atmosphere of fear for them," Brandyn Barksdale said.
She's a mother of two children in the LGBTQ+ community. That was her reaction when she found they were adding security to make sure the staff and campers are safe.
"My kids and I are all a part of the community, so it's just something we bond over. To have that week, where you can be free to just absolutely be yourself. Honestly, it was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Barksdale said.
The family went to CampOUT's LGBTQ+ youth summer camp for kids aged 10 to 17 years old last year. The time away from their small conservative town near Gainesville meant everything.
That's why they're coming back this year, but with new bills signed into law that critics say target the LGBTQ+ community, they were cautious in making the decision.
"As someone who is involved in CampOUT, even I have the fear. I said, 'My gosh, should we really go? Is it going to be okay,'" Barksdale said.
But the founder of CampOUT says it will be. They're fundraising to be able to add security because it's a top priority this year.
"We're adding a lot of new additional protocols to what we had. We had some safety protocols last year, but not to the extent we have this year," Rachel Sobiech, founder of the organization, said.
While the camp is like every other offered during the summer, its goal is to give those who are in the LGBTQ+ community or are allies a space to be loved and accepted.
"We had to do an extra check to the campground and kind of do a perimeter check and make sure everything was taken care of and taken note of just to ensure nothing happens. These bills there, it's going to get worse. I want them to know that they are loved and important," Sobiech said.
That's why volunteers like Barksdale and her kids who are volunteering and camping will be back this year. CampOUT is still fundraising to provide security this year and pay their staff. If you'd like to help them, you can here. The camp will be held from July 16-22 in Ocala. For more information, you can contact Admin@campoutflorida.com.