Summer camp holds a special place in the American psyche. For many, it’s a gateway to lifelong love of nature and outdoor recreation. But for queer youth, traditional summer camps—with their gender-segregated cabins and ever-present teenage drama—can be tricky places to navigate, let alone relax and rewind.
Enter Brave Trails, a national nonprofit that runs leadership-focused summer camps for queer youth.
“We like to describe Brave Trails as a traditional summer camp meets leadership institute,” explains Jessica Weissbuch (she/her), who founded the organization with her wife, Kayla Weissbuch, in 2015. “We have all the traditional camp stuff—archery, swimming, hiking, dance, theater, and arts and crafts—all with a 100 percent queer twist and a lot of glitter.”
The Weissbuches first had the idea for the camp in 2014. On a car ride back from the movies, a deep conversation about life goals explored a shared hope to leave their mark on the world, tracing the formative experiences in their own lives. For Kayla (she/her), those were the summer camps she attended every year as a child. Meanwhile, Jessica—a licensed marriage and family therapist at the time—was inspired by her work with queer youth, especially in the youth leadership-development space.
“We wondered, ‘Could we combine our passions?’” Jessica recalls. “And that’s how Brave Trails was born.” The Weissbuches were then both working full-time jobs. So, they spent nights and weekends filling out accreditation paperwork, looking for venues, and leveraging every contact to make their queer summer-camp dream a reality. “For the first three years, Kayla and I worked from 7 p.m. to midnight every night after our day-jobs,” she adds. “It was a pipe dream. We didn’t know what we were doing.”
But they stayed persistent with the moonlight efforts, making calls and finding critical support when it was needed most. The first year, they had 43 campers enrolled. Then, “to see it double and then triple and just continue to grow,” Jessica says, “it’s been astounding.”