Gender Expansive FAQ

While we value single-gender experiences in our cabins at camp, some of our campers don’t fit in the boxes of “boy” or “girl”. In order to offer a gender-identity affirming experience for all campers, we offer a cabin for those who identify outside the gender binary. We hope that by creating a gender-expansive cabin option, campers who are often targeted by misunderstanding or forced to conform to gender expectations not true to who they are will be able to fully be themselves in a safe and supportive space. 

Have more questions? Please view our LGBTQ+ & Gender Inclusion Policy or contact for more information.

Our decision to offer a gender-expansive housing option is the product of extensive research on best practices in the summer camp industry and careful deliberation by the Camp Olson Staff and Board of Directors. In 2021, Camp Olson began inquiring about campers’ preferred housing: boy-identifying, girl-identifying, or a Gender Expansive/non-binary option and piloted it’s first Gender Expansive cabin successfully. The same configuration existed for 2022, where if there was enough interest in a given session, we could offer it. For 2023, we continue to allow all campers to opt in during any given week, but will also specify a designated session in which the option is guaranteed (if the minimum # is met).

It is also motivated in part by some alarming statistics that underscore the difficulties that many LGBTQ+ youth (including those who identify as non-binary) face. In 2021, the Trevor Project National Survey found that youth who had their name, pronouns, and identity respected lowered the likelihood of those youth attempting suicide, often cutting that likelihood by half. Research shows that half or more youth identify with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+) community and that 25% of youth are non-binary.

Everyone who walks through our doors has unique needs, and we are a more powerful force for good when we take the time to find out what those needs are, to build empathy and understanding, and to respond to individuals appropriately. We know that the Y has the greatest impact and is most sustainable when we ensure that everyone who comes to the Y:

  • feels welcome and safe;
  • is treated fairly and with respect;
  • has equal access to programs and services; and
  • is treated with empathy

Acknowledgement: We view this expansion of housing options as a critically important step intended to create an environment in which all campers to feel safe, affirmed, and validated at camp and as part of our broader efforts toward diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.  We also recognize that this new policy may make some parents, guardians, and campers uncomfortable and that you may have many questions about why we are doing this and just how this policy will be implemented.  We have tried to answer many of the questions below, and we welcome you to share any lingering or additional questions or concerns to our Camp Director,

Anyone! The Gender Expansive Cabin option is open to anyone who opts in. It’s a great option for campers who identify outside the gender binary, who’d like to buddy with a friend or sibling of a different gender or who identify as non-binary,  and campers who feel this si the best fit for any reason.

In 2023, we are pleased to offer a Gender Expansive Cabin during session 7 for campers ages 13-15. If there is sufficient interest in other sessions or amongst other age groups, we will consider adding additional Gender Expansive Cabins as well. 

Cabin assignments will be made based on cabin gender preference (male-identifying, female-identifying, gender expansive, or no preference), as identified on their camper application. If parents/guardians do not select a cabin gender preference, cabin assignments will be made based on gender identity. 

No. This is an opt-in option.

Your camper’s experience is the same as any other cabin group! The only difference is that Gender Expansive cabins are staffed by counselors who have opted in to work with all-gender cabins and who represent a mix of genders (men, women, and non-binary folks). Cabins are simply a “home base” at camp, and all campers will participate in the same camp activities, including some based on individual camper choice. You can find out more about the camp experience here.

All campers have multiple bathroom options. We have two bathhouses on site with a male and female side. There is also access to non-gendered bathrooms in our Health Lodge, Art Center (coming 2024), and outhouses throughout camp. 

We believe that campers in both same-gender and gender expansive housing should have the opportunity for privacy when desired, including a private space for changing clothes. All cabins are equipped with a private changing tent. Staff are trained to respect and maintain the privacy of campers and to reinforce a culture in which campers respect one another’s privacy, and each housing unit is encouraged to develop and define their own boundaries and ensure that staff then help to support and reinforce those boundaries.

Counselors are also given the option to opt into the Gender Expansive Cabin. Counselors are then placed in cabins based on what staff and leadership think would provide the best possible experience for campers. There are always at least two staff members in each cabin, and they sleep in bunks near entrances and exits to cabins. All staff receive training on camp policies and protocols, promoting positive cabin environments, and creating a culture of inclusivity and safety for all regardless of identity. 

We do not offer programs around gender and sexuality, and housing options will not alter the camp program or mission. The focus of our program is to live, learn, and discover the “Spirit of the Northwoods” through new friendships, independence, and exploration of the outdoors. Our staff are trained how to have age-appropriate and positive conversations without making judgments when these questions or topics arise, including how to refocus everyone’s attention toward camp.

According to, gender-expansive is an umbrella term used for individuals that broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, roles, and/or other perceived gender norms. Gender-expansive individuals include those with transgender and non-binary identities, as well as those whose gender in some way is seen to be stretching society’s notions of gender.