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That time at summer camp

My first camp experience was Camp Winnataska, near Pell City. We made smores, had screened-in cabins and shaving cream battles, and dressed up like Indians for the big bonfire night. There were always older guys who served as camp counselors. They stayed in our cabins, led us in Bible studies, sprayed us with mosquito repellant, and straightened us out when we got out of line. Sometimes they were pranksters. 


I spent a week at Camp Winnataska when I was 11. I slept like a rock on one of the top bunks after full days of hiking, swimming, horseback riding, and dodgeball. But one morning as the bugle sounded, I awoke with confusion to find my bunk in the middle of the floor with all my cabin mates staring at me. I had no idea how I got there! My counselors thought it would be a hoot to carry me outside while sleeping, bunk bed and all, but the bed was too big to get out the door! I got over my initial shock and we all had a good laugh about it. 


I wasn’t mad. Why? Because I trusted my counselors and never thought for a second there was any harm in it. They had already earned our trust. 

You see, just days earlier one of the counselors had gotten out of line. He was a high school kid working with elementary-age boys who thought that being the cool counselor gave him the right to be a bully. Anytime he felt like it he would shove a kid, call him demeaning names, or rub shaving cream in his face. What do you do when you’re just a knot-head, 11-year-old boy and this guy is in charge? Wasn’t he supposed to be the boss? Didn’t the adults who ran the camp pick him because they thought he was good for us? 


Then the older counselors caught wind of it. We all listened wide-eyed as they wore the bully out in the next room. One of my peers looked around at our shocked faces saying, “I don’t feel bad for him. He deserves it.” 

The bully was gone the next day. Those older guys were our heroes. They could have hung me up by my toes and fed me worms and I would have laughed because they had already proven themselves to us. 


The point is this: Adults need to be keenly aware of who is working with their kids. We cannot simply take for granted that anyone with the name and title of “camp counselor” is automatically okay. Likewise, adults who select others to serve as counselors in their organizations bear great responsibility. Anyone who works with children should be required to go through some measure of scrutiny, background checks, and criteria-based interviewing. 


Anyone in charge of programs that work with minor children should ask themselves: Am I putting people in charge of kids that I wouldn’t allow to babysit my own children? 


Which brings me to Space Camp, hosted by the U.S. Space & Rocket Center(USSRC), and the counselors themselves – or in Space Camp parlance, "Crew Trainers.” 


Space Camp and the USSRC are amazing assets to our state. My own daughter attended Space Camp and I have fond memories of visiting the USSRC myself. Movies have been made about Space Camp and parents spend thousands of dollars to send their kids from all over the world. 

The Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission (ASSEC) oversees the USSRC and Space Camp and lists some amazing people as appointed members. They receive millions in state appropriations and local tax dollars to support Space Camp, and they all have some explaining to do. 

Apparently, the USSRC now hires those who take their personal agendas into the lives of our kids. That’s wrong, and it will not go unspoken. Somehow Space Camp forgot that its mission is its audience. 


Word broke recently of one Space Camp Trainer who proudly posted on his social media that he identifies as a “Butch coded space queer” while wearing a rainbow flag on his Space Camp uniform. In a separate post, this same individual displayed a “gender is a universe” sticker on his notebook in hopes that Space Camp attendees would see it. He was not a solo act. Parents now relate their shock at discovering that male trainers who “identify” as female sleep on the girls' floor and walk into the girls’ changing areas while our daughters dress. 


Parents were not advised that a state-run, world-class facility in the good ol’ red state of Alabama was of the mind that men could pretend to be women and then work with little girls. This is escalating at an enormous rate with parents expressing their outrage and future attendees already dropping out. 


Local, state, and federal officials have all engaged, and rightfully so. Constituents need to know their elected leaders are not okay with children being exposed to agendas that put them in awkward and insecure positions. State legislation is being proposed to address the issue. 


The pronoun police have also swooped in, denouncing anyone who dares question the well-meaning “butch coded space queer.” Per usual, they made the issue about the adults and their agenda rather than the security of kids and the sanctity of parent’s rights. 


Parents have every right to speak out, and anyone who tells them to mind their own business and go stand quietly in the corner is simply wrong. This is a parental rights issue, a religious liberty issue, a civil rights issue. No child should be made to feel insecure or threatened just so that adults with identity issues can feel better about themselves. 


Let’s get “camp” back to being about the kids, not the adults. Put camp, education, and experiential learning, back to a place where there is a deep and meaningful intent to make kids’ lives better without trying to foist adult lifestyles on them.

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