RALEIGH — A parent that was considering sending their child to an overnight 4-H camp run by the N.C. State 4-H Cooperative Extension discovered that campers can be assigned to sleeping accommodations by their preferred gender identity.
The policy was not given to parents prior to enrolling their children at 4-H camps. Parent Van Brinson tells North State Journal he had signed his 11-year-old daughter up for a weeklong “Fur, Fish and Game” 4-H overnight camp this summer. The camp was held in the Richmond County town of Ellerbe.
“I find this exceptionally deceptive,” Brinson said. “If this is going to be their policy, then parents need to be informed. I am not anti-trans, or anything else. I am, however, staunchly pro-information.”
Brinson said he only found out about it after a phone call to make sure he had all of his paperwork in order at which time he inquired about cabin assignments and was told they were set up by age and gender.
“As an afterthought, and because I was aware of similar situation that occurred in another state, I asked how the camp decided who was a boy and who was a girl,” Brinson said. “When I asked, the lady on the phone got very quiet. Then, after a pause, she told me that the children would be assigned to cabins based on their perceived gender, or the gender that their parents tell the camp the child prefers.”
“So, I asked, my daughter could be in a cabin with a male for sleepover camp and the answer was, yes, that could happen,” said Brinson.
Brinson was also told if any counselors identified as transgender, the camp would allow them to bunk under the gender they identify as. Additionally, when Brinson asked if parents were going to be informed of the policy, the camp’s director Sarah Moss told him she would pass his concerns “up the chain.”
After several follow-up emails to Moss, Brinson finally was contacted by Mike Yoder, the Associate Director & State Program Leader attached to 4-H at N.C. State University.
“Mr. Yoder informed me that there was no plan to announce this policy,” Brinson said. “Furthermore, he said, they were not allowed to publish this policy due to the federal funds that they received.”
In an interview with North State Journal, Yoder said that the policies are “consistent with the federal government and with N.C. State University” and that “every land grant University across the country that runs a 4-H program is operating under the same policies and every for every youth camp, or youth organization that accepts federal money.”
Yoder said the policy “has been in place for several years.” He also said they are not opposed to sharing the policy document with parents and had not shared it earlier as there was nothing in writing in place earlier this year.
“We were instructed that this is something we talk about with people, but we don’t share it with people,” Yoder said when asked if the policy had been shared with parents in the past.
As of the publication of this article, the policy document still does not appear on the NCSU’s 4-H website, 4-H camps portion of the website nor is it under the parent resources. The only mention on the entire NCSU 4-H Extension website of the Inclusion document Yoder provided is a November 2020 reference to a “Resource Review: Practices for Inclusion of All Genders & Sexual Orientations.” The document, however, is not linked there either.
Yoder said the policies were developed by the national 4-H council’s Access Equity and Belonging committee and that it was reviewed by their legal counsel. The document has been shared with all 100 of their agents across the state. He later said they have not encountered a case at their camps where these policies have actually had to be utilized.
The policy document created by the committee called “Practices for Inclusion of Individuals of All Genders and Sexual Orientations” was shared with North State Journal. Gender identity is defined in the document as a “person’s internal sense of their own gender” and states a “person’s gender identity may or may not match their sex assigned at birth.” The document also includes definitions for “non-binary” and “transgender.”
“There are some things in here that a lot of people will find offensive and we understand that, but we are not about to keep any individual from participating in 4-H based on gender,” Yoder said and pointed to section numbers four and five areas some might object to.
Section four states, “a youth member has shared their transgender identity with 4-H; however, the member’s parents are not supportive of their child’s gender identity. What is the most inclusive response?”
“4-H will treat all participants according to their gender identity, even if a youth member’s own guardian raises objections. While the guardians may choose not to allow their child to participate in 4-H, 4-H will not discriminate against the member to accommodate the guardians’ objection,” reads the response.
Under “facility considerations,” item number five states when there are “gender segregated facilities and/or activities, 4-H is supportive of individuals who identify as transgender or intersex being allowed to sleep, use the restroom, shower and participate in alignment with their gender identity where possible.”
When asked what would happen if male and female campers who object to someone of the other sex sleeping in their cabin or using their shower facilities, Yoder said they have two options; they could move into another cabin or they could go home.
In other words, the choice of a biologically male or female camper identifying as the other sex trumps that of all other campers.
“Even if a youth member’s own guardian raises objections, the guardians may choose not to allow their child to participate,” Yoder said. “And 4-H will not discriminate against the member to accommodate the guardian’s objection.”
Yoder indicated that federal guidelines drove the policy change. When asked if the money was in the million or even billions, he said “absolutely” and noted “we are the second largest extension in in the nation behind Texas” and “receive a substantial amount of funding from the federal government.”
“It’s [federal money] not tied specifically to this policy, I want to be clear here,” said Yoder. “Cooperative Extension – really, our parent organization and Cooperative Extension – is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University and it all of the land grant universities across the country Cooperative Extension, receives money through the United States Department of Agriculture, through what’s called the National Institute of food and Agriculture.”
“And so, it wouldn’t matter whether it came through USDA or it came through the Department of Education or it came from any other Federal organization,” Yoder explained. “These are the policies that basically are in line with what the federal government is thinking at this time.”
Yoder explained there are three arms of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; an academic arm for teaching, a research arm, and the Extension.
“Back in the early 1900s, funding was approved through the federal government for Cooperative Extension in a way to get research-based information to the people,” Yoder said. “And one of the programs that has been part of Cooperative Extension – part of the federal government – is 4-H; the youth development program.”
He added that “it’s not just 4-H that receives funding from the federal government. It’s the larger organization in general operative extension N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”
According to Yoder, the outreach arm and Cooperative Extension have offices in all 100 counties and employ around 1,000 people in the organization overall.
Yoder also added they are watching state-level legislative activities to see if it will change their policies.
When asked what happens if a camper decides to change their gender identity while at camp, Yoder said they “are not allowed by law to inform the parent. We absolutely cannot do that.”
“We fully understand that and I can fully understand why people are upset with this. I’m a parent myself,” said Yoder when pressed about the right of parents or guardians to know what is happening with their child at camp.
“Basically anything we do with 4-H is affected by this policy,” Yoder said.
“I will tell you what I told and I probably had this conversation seven times in the last three weeks. I will tell you what I have told everyone else,” said Yoder. “If people are unhappy with this policy, they need to vote. It’s the only way we can change policy.”