How a Gay-Owned Michigan Campground Exposed Anti-Trans Bias in the Queer Camping Community

by Dale Pauly

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 1, 2021
Originally published on February 26, 2021

How a Gay-Owned Michigan Campground Exposed Anti-Trans Bias in the Queer Camping Community
  (Source:Getty Images)

Michigan's queer camping scene is thriving — so much so that when the soon-to-open Camp Boomerang RV Park and Campground announced it would open this spring and cater exclusively to gay men, many jumped at the chance to claim their spots at the Central Michigan campground for the entire upcoming season. That is until its owners began waxing unpoetic on their definition of manhood.

"Camp Boomerang is a private, membership-only RV park/campground that allows only 'guys,'" announced Bryan Quinn last week in a since-deleted post in the private Facebook group for the campground, located in the small town of Orleans, about 35 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. "A 'guy,' in terms of this discussion, is defined as a person with a penis, [who] presents himself as male, and has a state-issued ID that says 'male.'

"We understand this statement, unfortunately, may not make everyone happy," Quinn continued — and right he was, with reaction coming fast and furiously within the campground's Facebook group. Yet even as the outcry grew over his blatant anti-trans discrimination, Quinn doubled down. "Listen guys, we NEVER said anything about 'penis checks,' but lets [sic] be real here," he said in a comment captured and shared on LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit Have a Gay Day's Facebook page. "If we let women that act like men in, and they go naked at the pool, that's when it's obvious that there's not penis. Sorry to put it bluntly, but if you don't like the rules, quietly leave." Quinn did not respond to EDGE's request for comment.

As LGBTQ media picked up on the story and anger over Quinn's bigoted statements went national, he responded with a tainted apology, also stating, "The mission is to provide a safe, comfortable social camping experience for men... That is what we designed, and that is what members expect and pay for." After receiving hundreds of responses, he deactivated comments to the post.

Some, like former Mr. Michigan Leather Kenn Kennedy, then took their protests directly to Quinn. "You and I are both homosexuals, and we have both been treated at some point in our life as subhuman by someone," Kennedy told Quinn on Messenger. "You and I both know better than to do that to somebody else."

"We made our position clear as day," Quinn responded. "People can make their decisions based on that, knowing exactly where we stand; you can too."

"How disheartening when the LGBT community is advocating for equal rights, we then see members of the gay community singling out transgender people for discrimination," says Jay Kaplan, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project. Rights advocates in Michigan have been fighting to add LGBTQ protections to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but meanwhile, Kaplan says that Club Boomerang's policies could already legally qualify as discrimination.

"Recently, the Michigan Court of Claims held in the case of Rouch World v. Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights that transgender people are protected against discrimination by current state civil rights laws under the category of sex," he says. "This includes employment, housing, education and public accommodations." Kaplan adds that Michigan law already considers certain private clubs like country, boating, athletic and dining clubs to be public accommodations. "Arguably, a camping membership club may fit under one of those definitions," he says.

Kaplan says that if it is determined that Camp Boomerang falls under the definition of public accommodations, a discrimination complaint could be filed with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights — and if such discrimination occurred, charges could be issued. The state Attorney General's office oversees the department, led by Dana Lessel, the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Michigan.

The Forest Above the Trees

Legalities aside and with Boomerang's future still unclear (the Gay Camp Association, an informal membership of North American gay campgrounds, has already removed from it from their listings), the fracas is a reminder of a not-so-secret state of affairs that reaches far beyond camping and Michigan: that trans people are often less than entirely welcome in gay-designated spaces, and that the LGBTQ "community" is too commonly, therefore, anything but.

"To imply that trans men go against the vision for your campground is to say that trans men are not men, and that's not true at all," says Jacob Johnson. He, like Kennedy, was part of the comment firestorm ignited by Quinn's statement in the Camp Boomerang Facebook group. Johnson — who hails from Wayne, Michigan, and is a previous Mr. CRC Cub titleholder at the state's first all-male gay campground, CreekRidge, as well as a vice-chair of the Michigan Democratic Party's LGBTQ+ Caucus — says that before the controversy, excitement had been high in the Michigan gay camping community for the opening of Boomerang, since the waitlist to be a seasonal camper at CreekRidge is quite long. "I have friends who are on the list at Boomerang because they bought in before this all came out and now are typing to figure out where to go," he says.

But that doesn't mean everyone will now automatically boycott Boomerang over its anti-trans stance, Johnson says. "I sadly believe that there are people who I once called 'friend' who are very excited by this policy, as they don't want to see a vagina at the pool,'" he laments. "However, I'm very happy to see the response from most of the community of standing with our trans brothers to defend them."

Located in Stockbridge, Michigan, between Lansing and Detroit, CreekRidge also faced backlash in 2018, after a response its owners made to an inquiry about whether trans men — or men assigned female at birth — would be welcome at the campground. "If the trans has been complete and no female genitals are visual, if you now have male genitals you are welcome," came the unfortunate reply.

"That is an incident that the camp has learned and grown from," says Johnson, who identifies as a gay man. "Will every trans man feel comfortable at CreekRidge? Potentially no, but CreekRidge makes every opportunity to make them feel welcome and gives them the opportunity to come and be themselves down by the river."

Following the Boomerang controversy, CreekRidge representatives posted a more inclusive statement regarding trans guests on its own Facebook page. "The only requirement is that their identification is that of a male due to being an all-male campground," read the statement. "We have had several campers throughout our four years of operation who have identified as transgender and, in fact, had no issues and truly enjoyed themselves."

While Michigan has among the country's most straightforward procedures for changing one's gender designation on a state ID, not all guests at Michigan's gay campgrounds hail from Michigan.

"Because each state has different laws about state IDs, it can be super hard to get that 'M,' even when on testosterone and living their true life as the man they are," says Kennedy, a Detroiter. "Requiring an 'M' on the state ID or requiring a penis is problematic in my opinion."

Kennedy prefers another Michigan campground, Campit Outdoor Resort, near the LGBTQ-friendly town of Saugatuck, and where there are no ID requirements. "Campit is my favorite," he says. "Women attend, trans men and women attend, and so do a boatload of gays from around the country. It doesn't care what's between your legs. Campit just wants you to have a great time."

A fourth queer Michigan campground, the women-only Windover, also reportedly excludes trans guests. The website states, "Membership is required and restrictions apply. Safe & secure camping for Women only, over 18 years of age." There was no response to a request for clarification.

Johnson sees inclusivity as the path of our collective queer future. "Safe queer spaces are dwindling every day," he says. "Erecting barriers to limit who is allowed in these spaces to fit a vision will only hurt us as a whole. We need to defend our spaces so that they remain for years to come — for the next generation."