Partners Steve Elkins (left) and Murray Archibald founded CAMP Rehoboth 25 years ago.
This year’s Sundance benefit will be held Sept. 5-6.
CAMP representatives are familiar faces in Dover’s government buildings, and their efforts have been rewarded. On July 2, 2009, Gov. Jack Markell signed a law to guarantee civil rights for all Delawareans, and he did so at CAMP Rehoboth. Elkins had been working with others for the passage of the legislation since 1997. “It was one of the highlights of my career,” he says of the ceremony.
CAMP, along with other organizations, lobbied for civil unions, which led to the same-sex marriage bill. Chris Beagle, now vice president of the board, became an active volunteer during the lobbying. He wrote a column on the civil union effort for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, ran phone banks and accompanied Elkins to town-hall meetings. “I talked to hundreds if not thousands of people,” he says. “It was encouraging.”
When the law allowing same-sex marriage was passed in 2013, Beagle and Eric Engelhart, who met in college, became the first gay married couple in Sussex County at CAMP Rehoboth. The men were interviewed on TV and for print. “I get very emotional about it,” Beagle says. “We never thought we’d have this right in our lifetime.”
Few would argue that relations between the LGBT and general communities have greatly improved in 25 years. While AIDS is still a real concern, there are people living full lives with HIV, and that stigma has eased. Along with an increase in women, the organization has attracted heterosexuals, both as members and event attendees. That’s particularly true of the CAMP Rehoboth Chorus, which recently celebrated its sixth season and now has 80 members. (The new CAMP Chorus Ensemble is an 18-member auditioned group.)
CAMP Rehoboth works with other organizations on such issues as poverty and bullying, which cross genders, incomes and sexual orientations. “We help with church projects, Habitat for Humanity, library book sales—whether it’s with volunteers and physical support or advertising in Letters from CAMP [Rehoboth],” says Natalie Moss, who’s been involved with the organization as a bookkeeper and board member for more than 20 years.
Beagle, a real estate agent who books CAMP’s space for meetings, says the organization is now “a community center in the truest sense of the word.” Yet, there are still concerns. “We’ve accomplished more than we ever thought possible, but things can change fast,” Elkins says. He points to legislation in other states that would require blood tests before marriage, possibly to target people with HIV. Businesses that use religion as a means to discriminate are another worry. Lately, transgressions against the transgender community have made national press.
CAMP also is looking to youth, not only to help teens and twentysomethings with coming out, but also to swell its ranks. Many CAMP volunteers and members are over 40. Someone has to carry on the torch, Beagle says. Moss agrees. “We’re all getting older, and we want people to take over the reins. Wiz would like to see more ethnic diversity in the group. It would benefit from every color in the rainbow, she quips.
Wiz first visited Rehoboth in 1997, when she and her wife were en route from Rockland County, N.Y., to Myrtle Beach. They made a pit stop upon a friend recommendation, and they fell in love with Rehoboth and CAMP Rehoboth. They moved there full time in 2008. The environment in which CAMP was created was pretty much one of hate and fear, she says. CAMP responded with love and inclusivity. CAMP is one reason why Rehoboth is unique…it’s beautiful.
CAMP Rehoboth is holding a number of events this year to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Well-Strung, a singing string quartet, will perform on July 25 at the Rehoboth Convention Center.
The Sundance benefit, an auction and dance, is scheduled for Sept. 5-6.
CAMP Rehoboth’s 25th Anniversary Gala is on the calendar for Oct. 9-11. It will include a dinner dance, open house and block party.
For more information, visit www.camprehoboth.com.