Setting a positive example for transgender youth is an important part of Andrew "AK" Kramer's job at Rainbow Day Camp, the El Cerrito summer camp he co-founded three years ago with Sandra Collins of the nonprofit enGender. But mostly, the gender-diverse elementary schoolers who attend Rainbow care more about having fun in a nonjudgmental environment than they do about the gender politics that bog down the adult world.
"Yes, being an adult role model is important for the little kids, but mostly they just want someone to play with," said Kramer. "For the teens, for sure — even though they think we're old and boring and have no style at all, which may be true."
Rainbow Day Camp takes place in three sessions, each a week long, every June and July. Since its inception, its cohorts have grown from 17 children and five teenagers to as many as 40 younger kids and 16 teens in a session. In many instances, campers enjoy Rainbow so much, they stay for all three weeks, Kramer said.
The goal of the camp, Kramer explained, is to give trans kids a fun, supportive camp experience where their gender identities won't be scrutinized. "I, as trans person operating in this world — who is pointed out, who is othered, who is used as an education tool — really wanted to create a summer camp where that wasn't happening. Where our kids could just come to camp and be their weirdo selves, and our staff could just come to camp and be their weirdo selves," said Kramer, noting that he means "weirdo" in a positive, empowering sense.
While many of the teens and older kids at camp have a clearer idea of their gender identities, many of the younger campers are still exploring how they identify. The camp is a safe space for them to explore dressing and playing in ways that stray from the boy-girl binary without judgment.
"For us, they don't have to know [their pronouns or gender identity]. And there's really nothing more empowering than that," Kramer said.
Kramer attributes the growing attendance at Rainbow to parents' increasingly open attitudes about gender. To help parents understand what their kids are going through, enGender offers a parent support group. Psychotherapists are also on site everyday at Rainbow to answer campers' questions.
"More times than not, they're really comfortable with who they are and have a great, supportive family," he said. "But sometimes it is a bit rocky and the camp provides a lot of emotional support."
This focus on mental health and emotional well-being is an important facet of Kramer's work as an educator. He's also the founder of the educational nonprofit The Whole Human Project, which provides social, emotional, and sex-ed programs to more than 2,000 teenagers at public and charter schools around the Bay Area. Kramer and his wife are expecting their first child, and they recently relocated to Boulder, Colorado, where he plans to expand The Whole Human Project and Rainbow Day Camp while continuing his work in the Bay Area.
"I think we [as a society] are opening our eyes, like, maybe we should stop funneling people into the pink or blue section," he said. "Maybe there's a lot more than that, and maybe we're actually harming people by forcing them one way or another."