JodiLyn Solomon’s daughter, Rose, attended an overnight summer camp for transgender children in New Hampshire in 2015 and 2016.
“It was great the first year, and then the second year, as they were becoming more teenagery, it did not work as well,” Solomon said.
Solomon, the parent of two transgender young adults, met with Ann Williams because Williams’ grandson went to camp with Solomon’s daughter, Rose. Together, they began formulating plans for a camp specifically for transgender and gender diverse teens. Shortly thereafter, Solomon’s older child, AJ, jumped on board as the first administrator and has been integral to the process.
Camp Lilac was incorporated in January 2017 and ran its first two sessions in Northeast Ohio in August of that year. Sixteen campers attended. School started early that year, conflicting with the camp’s second week session.
“A lot of the kids called their family towards the end of the first week and begged to stay instead of starting school,” said Solomon, 52, who is Camp Lilac’s executive director. “And their parents, for the most part, let them stay because it was so important.”
Designed for campers ages 12 to 17, the camp attracted 26 teens in its second summer, and 47 in its third, in 2019. It also offers a counselor-in-training program.
The weeklong camp is staffed by a group of vetted volunteers, ages 19 to 74.
In its first three years, Camp offered an in-person experience similar to many other camps: canoeing, campfires, sports, archery, arts and crafts. Camp Lilac offers transgender-specific activities as well, such as hair and makeup, vocal training, and a workshop on the making and safe use of chest binders.
“Trans people often have body dysphoria, and trans-masculine folks often feel a need to bind their chests to help with that,” said Solomon. “Binders can be very expensive. Also, depending on the camper’s home life, they may not be able to get one delivered to their house.”
“It’s different living in the world as a trans person as opposed to someone who is simply LGB. The issues are different, and it can feel more dangerous and burdensome to go through the world as transgender or gender diverse. Camp Lilac gives folks a place to be themselves,” she said. “They can try on different clothes, try out different names and pronouns and feel a sense of camaraderie with people who really get them. A lot of the kids who come to us haven’t chosen a permanent name yet and haven’t started dressing to reflect their gender identity, and so it’s a safe and supportive space where they can really talk to people who are just like them.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic Camp Lilac went digital this summer, attracting over 30 campers on the virtual platform. Prior to the pandemic, more than 60 campers had applied to take part in the in-person experience.
Raised in Chester Township, Solomon attended Conservative synagogues in her youth. Currently a member of Kol HaLev, the local Reconstructionist congregation, Solomon said she sees a connection between her commitment to Judaism and Camp Lilac.
“Respecting another person for who they are – in Judaism there is this expectation that people are holy beings,” Solomon said. “We are B’tselem Elohim, created in the image of G-d.”