Brave Trails is an American Camp Association-accredited summer leadership camp for LGBTQ youth ages 12-18 and ages 17-20 with a counselor-in-training program, the Unicorn Justice League.
While Brave Trails includes activities typical of any summer camp like swimming, archery and hiking, the four key elements it focuses on are leadership, community building, self-realization and service. Campers are free to express themselves and explore their identity with support from all staff and without judgment though programs such as dance, theater, drag, cooking/nutrition, sports or arts and crafts.
Organizers bring in workshop facilitators to present topics like LGBTQ history or share their coming out stories to serve as positive queer role models.
Brave Trails provides space for campers to develop service projects they can implement in their communities and strives to foster an environment where campers can build lasting peer-to-peer connections. Brave Trails also hosts a weekend-long family camp in the spring.
This summer will be Krista M. Mastel’s third summer volunteering with Brave Trails where she works as a cabin counselor and program lead. She volunteers for two weeks each summer in various areas. She will co-lead the Unicorn Justice League program this year.
“Camps like Brave Trails are important because they provide a welcoming and supportive place for LGBTQ youth,” Mastel says. “We all know the statistics on health outcomes for LGBTQ youth so camp can provide a place for youth to explore their identity in a safe and healthy environment, surrounded by their peers and LGBTQ-identified and ally adult mentors. Our staff embody the “it gets better” slogan, serving as role models for our campers.”
For safety reasons, Brave Trails does not disclose its location. Mastel says it’s about a 90-minute drive northeast of the D.C. region. Sessions run June 26-July 9, July 13-19, July 24-Aug. 6 and Aug. 12-18. Full details at bravetrails.org.
Mastel, a 35-year-old Columbus, Minn., native came to Washington 10 months ago for work in her field of public health. She’s single and lives in Rockville. She enjoys camping, hiking, snowshoeing, running and gardening in her free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been coming out to someone in some way since I was 17. I wouldn’t say it was hard to tell anyone, just intimidating and it’s a constant process every time I meet someone new and as I become ever more comfortable in my identity.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Marsha P. Johnson. Rest in power.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Sorry DMV, I am obsessed with Suspended Brewing in Baltimore.
Describe your dream wedding.
Marriage is not for me.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
I’d argue just about everything is an LGBTQ issue, including reproductive rights.
What historical outcome would you change?
Every instance of biological or military colonial genocide. The loss of vibrant cultures and languages is an unfathomable tragedy of our species.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
A little obscure, but when Savage Garden’s self-titled album dropped, it changed my angsty teenage life.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I don’t really use either. Probably a check-in to some event.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
You should probably read another book.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Nothing. Encourage folks to let their orientation be what it is.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Nothing. This is it.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Resiliency is not a choice so practice self-care.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That we’re all artsy. I can’t draw/sing/act for my life!
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
My “awards” from Brave Trails — we paint wood rounds for our campers, the directors make them for staff and they feature a trait or strength others see in us.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Experience the world, don’t rush it, make mistakes, learn and grow so that your 30s (and beyond) will be amazing.
Work. That’s it.