New JSMA art camp emphasizes discovering identity for children outside of the gender binary

Originally Posted on Emerald Media via UWIRE

No one told Amadeus Miller that being nonbinary was OK.

Miller, who uses they/them pronouns, did not feel accepted in their Christian household. Even though Miller knew gay and lesbian adults, they did not feel accepted.

“It’s very important for every LGBT child to have someone there to tell them that it is OK,” Miller said.

Miller, 20, is an assistant instructor at Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s new art summer camp, which is designed to teach basic art skills to transgender and gender non-conforming elementary school children.

Sherri Jones, the JSMA’s education program coordinator and mind behind the camp, said that teaching art to transgender children gives them the chance to explore and develop their identities.

“I hope that the attendees in camp make new friends, and that they learn ways to use art for their own self exploration, because when you’re creating art it’s very personal,” Jones said.

The camp will not focus on transgender artists and themes but will rather on teaching students about a wide-range of art media, said Jones, who cited the often mature themes of such art.

Jones said that she was inspired to start the camp after discussing with family members the discrimination that members of the LGBTQ community encounter.

“I am the parent of a queer young adult,” Jones said. “And because of my amazing child, I’ve met many members of the LGBTQA community as well as members of the transgender community, and it’s really made me aware of the needs of that community.”

According to The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention nonprofit for LGBTQ youth, 40 percent of transgender adults reported in a survey having attempted suicide, and 92 percent of those individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

Jones added that because of her child, she indirectly heard of people who had taken their lives. She said that transgender or gender non-conforming children may not commit suicide if parents can help them feel welcome and part of society.

Support from local community members impressed Jones, who said that several individuals have called her and offered to pay for student scholarships; however, even with the support from community members, enrollment in the camp has not turned out as well as she has hoped.

Jones said that the camp is only a third full, and enrollment in JSMA’s summer camps normally number at about 15 to 20 kids.

The camp’s success should not only be measured by enrollment numbers, said JSMA spokeswoman Debbie Williamson, who added that the relationships formed with transgender advocacy groups and the experiences of students need to be taken into account.

“That’s all laying the groundwork so that we can do this again next year,” Williamson said.

One of the community groups that the JSMA contacted for advice on how to build the camp’s curriculum is Trans*Ponder, a Eugene non-profit and transgender advocacy group that educates businesses on transgender inclusivity.

“I immediately thought it was important,” said Max Skorodinsky, the Trans*Ponder representative who advised Jones on the camp’s curriculum.

Skorodinsky, who is also a local high school teacher, added that a lack of supportive classroom environments for transgender children may turn them away from expressing their gender identities.

“It’s why I’m an out transgender teacher — because I want my students to know that this is a classroom where they’re fully supported and embraced,” he said.

Right now, enrollment in the camp is limited to elementary school aged children because of declining enrollment of middle school aged students in JSMA’s summer camps and the logistical challenges that come along with a camp that has a wider age range.

Tuition is $300 for a full day of camp (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and $150 for a half day of camp (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.), with the discounted tuition for both JSMA members and UO students at $270 and $135, respectively. The camp is still accepting interested students.

A camp that sees many elementary school aged students and only one or two middle school aged students may leave older students feeling isolated, Jones said.

“This program is absolutely necessary to give children the opportunity to see that there is a big community of people like them and that they are safe and valid humans,” Miller said.

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