Young campers find community and acceptance at Campfire Institute’s LGBTQ+ outdoor programs, parents say. Contributed / Campfire Institute

The third annual OUT Retreat Leadership Weekend and Prom will be held next month in Bridgton with the goal of providing a space for LGBTQ+ youth “where they can show up and not explain to anybody who they are, or be judged,” according the founder and director.

Campfire Institute, based in Westbrook, has been taking young people from across the state on outdoor adventures since 2015, encouraging them to connect with one another and with nature.

Rae-a Moughty, a registered Maine Guide and longtime educator, started the nonprofit Campfire Institute with a summer overnight camp for girls nine years ago that also includes nonbinary and gender nonconforming youth. Her organization has since grown into year-round programming for young people from ages 5 to 18, including OUT camps and trips geared specifically towards LGBTQ+ youth.

This is the third year of OUT retreats, for youth ages 12-17, and Campfire Institute’s third year of year-round programming.

“I went to camp growing up and felt like it was a place to be myself,” Moughty said.

She said many campers at her earlier girls’ camp were transgender or nonbinary and “felt like this was a welcoming and affirming place.” She wanted to offer more opportunities for kids to feel that way.


Two campers work to start a fire. Contributed / Campfire Institute

“This is a safe space; a refuge from the storm,” she said, and a chance to “meet other kids from the queer community.”

Campfire Institute volunteer Jenny Woodward said “creating these spaces for kids is so vital to them avoiding future depression.”

Programs like this are actually saving lives,” Woodward said.

According to the Trevor Project 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People, 41% of LGBTQ+ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. The Trevor Project is a nationwide suicide prevention and crisis intervention nonprofit organization for LGBTQ+ youth.

Woodward has been volunteering for Moughty for about three years.

“My son was going to the OUT camp, and I became friends with Rae-a and offered to volunteer when I saw the impact she was having on these kids,” she said. “They may come from schools or places where they’re considered weird or don’t fit in, but they come to these camps and realize there is no rulebook and they can be completely accepted.”


Stephanie Golinveaux is the parent of a camper, who first became introduced through the initial girls’ camp.

Golinveaux said that after her daughter, Max, had developed epilepsy and was dealing with medical challenges around that, she became more withdrawn and anxious than she ever had been.

When her daughter expressed interest in the camp, Golinveaux said she was tentatively encouraging, concerned that Max might be too scared to stay through the full week.

“She lasted the entire time and was the happiest we’d seen her in years,” Golinveaux remembered tearfully.

After that, she began participating in OUT camps, which Golinveaux said “taught her more resilience and confidence.”

“She was able to find herself again and her courage,” she said. “She had felt so different and was dealing with a chronic medical condition that not many kids understood, but felt so loved and understood by the staff and campers there.


“Max met some really great kids and is still friends with them,” she said. “Rae-a does a wonderful job and the programs she has really do make a difference in kids’ lives.”

All of Moughty’s camps and trips are wilderness-based, and while the OUT retreat is no different, it is also focused around developing leadership skills and building community.

Moughty invites business owners, artists and others who can demonstrate “ways to be successful in the world” as a queer person to come and speak to the kids.

“I have a friend who was on ‘Survivor’ who always comes,” she said.

The camp includes workshops, panels and community art projects.

The weekend finishes with a Spring Formal, an elegant costume ball, where Moughty said kids often feel free to express themselves in ways they may not feel safe to outside of camp.


“Teenagers are hungry for community and want to belong somewhere they don’t need to meet specific expectations,” she said. “If you’re born into a family or a place that isn’t as affirming, it’s hard to find safe spaces.”

Most of Campfire Institute’s trips consist of about 12 kids, while the OUT retreat has a maximum of 30.

The cost of camp, April 5-7, is $400, but scholarships are available, and Moughty said she never turns anyone away for an inability to pay.

In addition to the OUT weekend, Moughty also offers oceanfront camping trips and canoeing and kayaking excursions for young queer people. She will host a free trip in July in collaboration with Maine Tourism for queer youth ages 14 to 18 that will include whitewater rafting, rock climbing and other adventures.

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