For Puck Markham, the idea for Camp Lightbulb wasn't an immediate "Aha!" moment, but the slow force of ideas coming together. "I kept reading stories about LGBTQ youth having a harder time in terms of homelessness and depression and bullying," Markham recalls, and he found himself wanting to address this. At the time, he was in Provincetown, and it dawned on him that "this would be a wonderful place for a camp." And thus, Camp Lightbulb, giving LGBTQ teenagers a weeklong immersive summer camp, was born. In their first year, 2012, they had nine campers, and the program has since grown. This year sees 35 kids joining Lightbulb from across the US, with plans for a winter camp also getting off the ground. We spoke to Markham about what a summer at Camp Lightbulb is like and how Provincetown gets involved.
What is the experience at Camp Lightbulb like?
Provincetown is very much our base. We stay in a hostel in this old gorgeous Coast Guard Station in Truro. There are four or five elements to camp. We'll meet with drag queens. Everything that makes Ptown so special, we do a lot of programming around that. Then there's a big focus on doing things outdoors, fun stuff outside. So it might be kayaking, or the National Seashore, everything bringing in the outdoors. We do all-around arts that we want to explore—that could be sand castle building, it could be poetry writing. This year we did poetry and sketching with two local artists. We went into the dunes, were inspired by the scenery, and then the kids worked on poems and writing. And then another element around wellness, having discussion with our campers around what does it mean to be gay, how do you deal with bullying, how do you deal with trans issues. A lot of casual discussions there around the heftier stuff. And this all creates this kind of program that we try to engage the community in. On Thursday night of our week, we have a big variety show and have local artists peform along with our kids. This year we had Caitlyn Jenner as our big speaker, which was our first big celebrity.
That's really exciting!
It was exciting. And kind of controversial, because she does come with controversy. But all of that, we're very focused on creating this slightly curated experience and bringing in everything that's local and special about that particular part of the world. I've had a big focus on making sure we have a very broad base of kids and all of them get to experience this together. So they all get to share this journey of coming to terms with who they are in this very positive LGBTQ space.
How can people get involved with and support Camp Lightbulb?
We're a very small organization. We're definitely on the lookout for volunteers, and As we're expanding our camps, we're definitely on the lookout for volunteers. And as we grow and develop, we're definitely interested in people that are interested in sponsoring or donating. That could be giving $100 or sponsoring a camper who wouldn't be able to come otherwise.
What do you think is the next step for the LGBTQ community to focus on and work towards?
I think visibility is one huge positive. I think when we look at our kids, whether or not they'll be growing up in a supportive environment is a complete crap shoot. So, they might find themselves with very supportive parents, but not a supportive school. They might find themselves in a rural community where they're ostracized. Or they might find themselves in a school district that purports to be supportive but really isn't. It's so specific to whether a kid will be supported or not, and I think finding ways of making that experience as standardized as possible is huge. Ideally, you want every kid to have access to the same experience as everyone else.