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A new Austin summer camp wants to offer trans kids a 'community of joy'

An overhead shot looking down at kids in purple shirts pulling out a tie-dyed shirt from a bucket of liquid
Courtesy of Camp Indigo
Kids tie-dye shirts at Camp Indigo.

If you went to summer camp, no matter what camp you went to, you probably have a lot of the same memories: outdoor games, some art projects or science experiments, maybe a silly song or two.

And, of course, lots of new friends.

Executive Director Andrew Kramer says that’s exactly the stuff Camp Indigo is about. It just happens that most of the campers are trans, nonbinary or express gender in a nontraditional way.

Kramer and his wife founded the day camp 10 summers ago in Oakland, California, with the goal of creating a space where trans kids could focus on just being kids. Kramer, who is transgender himself, said the inspiration came from a co-founder's daughter, who wanted to go to a camp where she wouldn't be the only trans kid.

“When you're 7, you should be thinking about how many rubber bands it takes to make a watermelon explode, not [wondering], 'Is anyone going to look at me if I go in this bathroom?'” Kramer said. “We take away that stress piece.”

Younger campers focus on art, science, movement and “play-based” activities — lots of tag, relay games, and “messy and ridiculous” fun, according to Kramer. Teens, meanwhile, split their time on and off the campus. Sometimes they might make ‘zines or art projects at the camp, and sometimes they might take a trip to go bowling or have a picnic at the park.

"We can't politicize joy. We deserve to experience it."
Andrew Kramer, executive director of Camp Indigo

“This is just what teenagers do — they gather in social groups,” Kramer said. “The difference is, in my typical life, I might be the only trans young person in this space, but at camp, I can feel comfort and safety.”

Camp Indigo has expanded over the years, adding a location in Boulder, Colorado, four summers ago. Two new sites are coming this summer — one to Akron, Ohio, and the other to Austin.

Kramer said Ohio was a natural choice because it's accessible for much of the Midwest, with several metropolitan areas within a two-to-three-hour drive. As for Texas, it’s a large state that Kramer says is without a camp that's comparable to Camp Indigo. He was also conscious of the political landscape for transgender people in Texas; last fall, a state law banning gender-affirming care for minors went into effect, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has tried to investigate parents of transgender youth for child abuse.

Kramer said he’s seen trepidation from some Texas parents who feel like they have to protect their children from being identified as trans. But Kramer wants to show them joyful experiences remain both possible and important for their kids.

“That's the part we can control,” he said. “We can't politicize joy. We deserve to experience it.”

Camp Indigo does take some steps to protect campers, like not publicly disclosing the exact location of camp. Campers and their families learn the address closer to camp time.

Kramer expects most campers in Austin to be from Texas, but campers have often traveled from out of state to attend Camp Indigo in California and Colorado.

One Kansas mother told KUT she has traveled with her 10-year-old son four summers in a row to attend Camp Indigo in Boulder. She requested to remain anonymous due to safety concerns; Kansas has passed its own laws restricting transgender rights, and the child is not out as transgender in his own community.

She said attending the camp has been “life changing” for her son.

“Just being able to build those friendships and see that he's not alone, that he's not the only one, has been really impactful for him,” she said. “They've stayed connected over the last few years, and they help each other cope with different things that pop up, whether it's bullying at school or changes that they're going through, either mentally or physically.”

Camp Indigo has also introduced the mother to other parents whose children are going through similar things.

“Being able to build those relationships is so important, especially in a hostile state where there might be families out there that feel like they are alone,” she said.

Those friendships, Kramer said, are at the core of Camp Indigo’s mission. Conversations about gender or identity aren’t the primary focus of camp activities, although those conversations might come up naturally, especially among teen campers.

“It's just all about community, joy, normalizing our lived experiences and not being alone,” he said.

Registration for Camp Indigo’s inaugural Austin camp session in July is currently open, and scholarships are available.

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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