PROVINCETOWN — After last summer’s shutdowns and shifts, Camp Lightbulb and Summer of Sass are both coming back to town this summer. For both programs, the hope is to provide a warm welcome to a younger — and more diverse — generation of LGBTQ people.
Kristen Becker, a comic and the founder and director of Summer of Sass, said she got the idea for the program in 2017 while visiting her old high school in Shreveport, La. “There was an article about a kid who was being bullied so much at the high school that he had to graduate early,” she said. “It was awful going to where I had grown up and seeing that over 20 years later there had been no progress.
“That year, Trump had just been elected and there were visa shortages in Provincetown, so there was a labor shortage for service jobs that needed to be filled,” Becker continued. “I knew there were American kids who would love to have those jobs.”
Summer of Sass helps provide housing in Provincetown and Truro for queer people between the ages of 18 and 20; they pay for part of the rent through their summer jobs.
The program subsidizes their housing “because Provincetown is no longer accessible to the next generation of queers,” Becker said. “You used to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna work really hard so that I have enough money to go be gay at the beach.’ That’s no longer possible for young queer people.”
The young adults who come to Summer of Sass work on whale watch boats, in coffee shops, and at art galleries. Becker tries to provide them as much freedom as possible in choosing jobs. “My role is to help them get from where they are to where they want to be,” she said.
For even younger LGBTQ people, ages 14 to 18, there is Camp Lightbulb, an overnight camp in Provincetown. The campers sleep at the Truro Hostel for week-long sessions.
Puck Markham is the founding director of Lightbulb. Based in Los Angeles, he came to Provincetown for the first time 12 years ago. “Provincetown is such an awesome, liberating place for me as an adult — just imagine how great it could be for kids,” he remembers thinking the first time he walked down Commercial Street.
Markham said that Provincetown skews towards “wealthy, older white males.” His camp, he said, is changing that. “Our kids are really broad across the spectrum of LGBTQ and racial identities,” he said.
Rob Williams, the finance director for Lightbulb, said that the program “accepts any camper whether they have the money to attend or not.” Forty percent of the campers receive “camperships,” meaning that, based on their family income, they pay only a portion of the normal $1,200 fee.
Campers come from a variety of home situations. Most, said Markham, have parents who are “accepting.” But for campers who have only recently come out, often the families are trying to cope and figure out what it all means, he said. “I would call those types of families ‘reluctantly accepting.’ ”
Finally, Markham said, the camp does have “a small contingent of kids who come from social services.”
“Right now, our campers are very focused on social justice,” Williams said. “On one hand, they have pink hair and wear fuzzy little things. On the other hand, they’re intellectual young people with an incredibly strong point of view.”
Markham and Williams said that one of their big goals is to connect those who have been in Provincetown for a long time with the kids who attend their camp. “There’s a bit of disconnect between the community in Provincetown and what the queer community at large looks like now,” Markham said. “We have a lot of nonbinary and queer kids.”
To bridge this divide, Lightbulb hosts events that involve the community. “We invite drag queens and speakers and performers who run the full gamut,” Markham said. They also host a variety show in which the campers perform at town hall.
The people behind both programs are cautiously optimistic about the summer ahead. Last year, Summer of Sass was canceled, while Camp Lightbulb resorted to a virtual program, which it has been running throughout the pandemic.
Becker is worried about finding housing for the people in her program this summer. A reluctance to rent to young people, she said, is compounding the housing crunch. “On one hand, this community runs on a service economy,” she said, “and, on the other hand, no one is willing to house the young people who would be excited to work those kinds of jobs.”
Becker has been able to secure housing for only one young adult this summer so far, but said she has many more wanting to join the program.
After lots of plans to adjust for Covid-related safety, Markham and Williams said they’re now confident that, with the guidelines that have come from Gov. Baker, they will be able to move forward with Camp Lightbulb this summer.
“Provincetown is our home,” Markham said. “We want to make it home for these kids, too.”