The Austin Chronicle

http://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/gay-place/2014-04-01/nothing-hasty-about-this-retreat/

Nothing Hasty About This Retreat

By David Estlund, April 1, 2014, 10:15am, The Gay Place

Queer teens and young adults like the great outdoors too, and this weekend, they get a two-fer: a retreat where they can celebrate identity in a natural setting and at the same retreat, explore their often-stymied spirituality.

Oftentimes, queer youth are raised or find themselves in religious communities that are unwelcoming or even outright hostile to LGBTQ identities. The Spiritual Pride Project is an Austin-based group of volunteer counselors, activists, artists, pastors, youth ministers, social workers, et al, that's trying to remedy the situation by bringing together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex or asexual teens and young adults, as well as high-school- and college-aged straight allies from all over.

This weekend, the SPP presents two retreat opportunities for folks to get a real feel for the great outdoors, as well as to come together and respectfully explore their personal and spiritual differences and similarities. The events also offer safe opportunities for young people who live outside of the (mostly) welcoming environment of Austin to come and explore a functioning, supportive LGBTQ community. The main event is a three-day, two-night camping retreat, but the group also offers a Spring Day Camp for those who can't get away for the entire weekend. As an "interfaith and ecumenical" organization, SPP provides a safe space for people of all faiths (presumably including questioning or none) to share and worship as they see fit. Whatever one's preferred flavor of spirituality, it's always healthy to break out from the mold and heighten one's awareness.

Camping itself can be an awkward, if not traumatic experience for queer teens, as gender and sexuality norms are often enforced with a level of intensity seldom seen elsewhere. Spiritual Pride Project offers a camping experience that's not only affirming, but can teach valuable lessons to LGBTQIA youth. To learn more, register (official deadline is tomorrow, but they encourage applying as a few slots may open up), donate, or volunteer, visit spiritualprideproject.org.

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