#QUEERSOUTHERNSTORIES SERIES

Gender Benders: “We are here, and you are not alone.”

The South is home to one in three LGBTQ people in the United States, and more than four in 10 LGBTQ people in the South are people of color. Contrary to stereotypes about the possibilities for political progress in the South, LGBTQ Southerners are often leading the way nationwide in innovative programming, organizing, and strategies to support their own communities and make meaningful change on their own terms. What can we learn from LGBTQ Southerners on building coalitions & nurturing community? MAP’s blog series on #QueerSouthernStories highlights the organizations spotlighted in Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership, in order to amplify the vital work already being done by advocates, activists, and community organizers in the region.

Founded in 2011, Gender Benders is a grassroots organization for transgender and gender diverse people in the southeastern United States. Based in South Carolina, with chapters and partner organizations in Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, Gender Benders’ work has three key elements:

  1. connecting people to the resources they need to lead full and healthy lives;
  2. engaging in activism and education work to help create safer communities for our people; and
  3. holding intentional space for people to develop relationships with other transgender and gender diverse people who can serve as a support system for one another.

A defining program offered by Gender Benders is Camp GB, first offered in 2013. Camp GB is a multi-day immersive camp environment, where people gather to build community, learn from one another, and simply have fun and experience joy in an affirming space with other queer and transgender people.

Camp offerings include workshops on self-love and spiritual reconciliation, a name change clinic including financial support for legal fees, an annual talent show, and even a swimming pool. In 2019, the camp added a health and wellness track that included onsite doctors, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), medical letters supporting gender marker changes on identity documents, and general health and wellness consultations.

Camp co-founder Ivy Hill added, “Because we know continued care is such an issue for our folks, we didn’t just offer these services at camp, but we actually paid for six months of HRT care for every camper who started at camp and requested financial assistance.”

In its first year, Camp GB had 20 attendees, and has since served over 550 people from 13 different states. An intentionally intergenerational space, campers have ranged in age from 15 to 72. Camp GB also includes spaces exclusively for attendees of color, and in 2019 roughly 65% of attendees were transgender women of color. Additionally, 90% of all campers receive financial support for attendance costs.

Camp GB also has online and social media offerings so that attendees can maintain the connections and community they’ve built at camp, even long after leaving the campgrounds. In a mini documentary about the camp, one multi-year attendee named Shane said:

“Every year I come here it makes me stronger. It helps me be able to go out into the world and recognize that it’s not the way it should be, but also have the strength and energy to fight.”

Take Action

  • To learn more or to donate, visit www.genderbenders.org.
  • We want to hear your #QueerSouthernStories! Use the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to celebrate some of your favorite photos, memories, or organizing tips for moving LGBTQ equality forward in Southern states! We’re impressed every day by the gorgeous community of organizers, activists, and storytellers who are here, queer, and ready to make change. We look forward to seeing your stories and amplifying!

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Movement Advancement Project

Movement Advancement Project

MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.