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Starting a movement

Queer Rock Camp offers something that doesn’t happen in schools

KIMYA DAWSON: Saturday she’ll share a stage with Olympia’s Queer Rock Camp. Courtesy Michael Elvin

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Rock camps for girls are just so 2005.

The latest step in the empowering-youth-through-rock movement is Queer Rock Camp, happening this week in Olympia. It's the first ever do-it-yourself music camp for queer youth.

"It really is not a music camp," says organizer Molly Fischer of Olympia. "The goal of the camp is empowerment and providing this vessel for people to express themselves and take up space.

"As a young queer person, you're pushed to the sidelines or not heard."

Monday, 31 campers ages 12-21, some from as far away as the East Coast, were divided into eight bands.

They took music lessons, wrote songs, practiced and picked names. Saturday, Aug. 13, they'll make their stage debut, sharing the bill with singer-songwriter/indie inspiration Kimya Dawson.

The whirlwind week in Olympia was organized on short notice by a group of volunteers with support from Stonewall Youth, an Olympia nonprofit that offers support to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens.

"It feels really magical," Fischer says. "It feels really good to be in a space that is full of queer and allied youth and volunteers. It's something that doesn't happen in schools.

"Probably a lot of us sometimes feel like we're the only ones. It's felt really good to be here."

Fischer, who moved to Olympia in September, came up with the idea for the camp after volunteering for several years at the Bay Area Girls Rock Camp and seeing the camp's impact.

"The message and the lessons learned at girls rock camp about expression and confidence-building are also extremely relevant for queer youth," she says.

Sam Silvestro, 21, works at Stonewall Youth and was hearing a lot about the camp. "I got really jazzed," Silvestro says. "Since I'm technically young enough, I decided to go ahead and do it.

"Punk music is all male-dominated," Silvestro says. "We can take things into our own hands and create our own scenes and movements."

Campers were invited to choose an instrument - guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vocals - that they didn't know.

Silvestro, who already knows guitar and bass, chose to learn the drums.

The camp provides a nonjudgmental atmosphere both socially and musically, Silvestro says. "I knew there would be a really awesome environment here to learn to do something really vulnerable. You won't be judged and critiqued."

Despite the name, campers are not required to play rock nor must they be queer. ("Q.R.C. is for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual youth and their allies," according to the FAQ on the Queer Rock Camp web page. "People of all sexual and gender identities between the ages of 12 and 21 are invited to apply.")

Campers received two hours of instruction each morning and had band practice in the afternoons. "Basically, it's a crash course," Fischer says.

In between, lunch was accompanied by concerts with area bands; Seattle's The Gaze played on Monday.

Already, the camp has gotten national attention, and Fischer expects to start a movement.

"I had the opportunity to go to the Girls Rock Camp Alliance Conference this past year," she says. "It's a conference of about 30 camps from all over the world. We got to talk to them to them and learn from them."

People were really excited about the queer rock camp, she says. "Hopefully, there will be more of them."

Queer Rock Camp Showcase

Saturday, Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m.
$10-$15, free for youth 21 and younger
Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia

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