Sage Zahnd, a transgender high school student, takes in the reading of names of transgender people who were killed by violence in the U.S. during the Transgender Day of Remembrance candlelight vigil held Tuesday, Nov. 20 in Gold Town Nickelodeon. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Sage Zahnd, a transgender high school student, takes in the reading of names of transgender people who were killed by violence in the U.S. during the Transgender Day of Remembrance candlelight vigil held Tuesday, Nov. 20 in Gold Town Nickelodeon. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Holidays can be hard for the LGBTQ community, but there is a safe place in Juneau

Eagle River United Methodist Camp is an inclusive option for Thanksgiving

For members of the the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community, Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season can be particularly difficult.

“It’s hard for a lot of the LGBTQ community,” Karen Dammann, an openly gay Methodist pastor for Aldersgate United Methodist Church, told the Capital City Weekly. “The holidays are awful.”

Many LGBTQ community members face discrimination from within their family, making the holidays unpleasant. Dammann recalls hiding her sexual orientation from her family while growing up for that reason.

[At candlelight vigil, Juneau residents remember transgender lives lost]

“There was strife in my family over my orientation, but a lot of that has been healed,” she noted.

Dammann has made it a personal mission to ensure that LGBTQ members in Juneau know of a safe place to go on Thanksgiving. Her church in conjunction with other local Methodist churches hosts a Thanksgiving celebration that is open to people of all creeds, genders and orientations.

“That’s a place where people from this community will feel safe,” Dammann said. “There’s oases in every community.”

The camp has been the site of the Thanksgiving dinner for years, a group effort between local Methodist churches that usually draws between 40-60 people, with attendees who may be members of a different church or no church at all.

Dammann, who has been Aldersgate’s pastor for two and a half years, promotes the dinner for those in the LGBTQ community who may need a safe place to go, free of judgment.

Bunti Reed, Methodist and former camp manager, and her family have been attending the event for the past 10 years, and said inclusivity is a cornerstone of the event.

“All are welcome,” Reed said. “Absolutely. It’s the camp of open doors.”

Jane McMillan Ginter, a member of Northern Light United Church, has been going to the annual Thanksgiving event with her family for more than 30 years.

“My kids grew up going to the camp since they were infants,” Ginter said. “They never realized Thanksgiving was celebrated another way.”

Reed and Ginter said attendees can expect board games, a roaring fire and conversation.

“There’s no cellphone reception there,” Reed said. “It’s really a place where people talk and visit. It’s really a throwback.”

Dammann said attendees are encouraged to bring a dish. It is not required, however, since members of her congregation tend to prepare an abundance of holiday favorites.

The lodge opens at 10 a.m., and Thanksgiving dinner is planned for 1:30 p.m, usually there is a group walk afterward. The camp is located at 27500 Glacier Highway, and those in need of a ride can call Ginter at (907)209-8185.

‘Just like anybody else’

Thunder Mountain High School student Sage Zahnd — who attended Tuesday’s Transgender Day of Remembrance with her mother, Rachel Zahnd — created their own oasis.

Sage described her mother as a supportive ally. Rachel Zahnd is a member of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays Pride Chorus.

“Coming out to my mom and everyone else wasn’t a big struggle,” Sage said.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t shake some of the family tree’s extended branches.

“My uncle is a southerner … but my local family is great,” Sage said. “Anytime, I travel to see family, I have to be more careful.”

Sage said she was looking forward to Thanksgiving, while her mom said it’s one of her least favorite holidays because of the stress of preparing food.

Capt. Allison Caputo, who is a transgender active-duty member of the Coast Guard stationed in Juneau, spoke at the Transgender Day of Remembrance observation, and before her speech told the Capital City Weekly about her experience with the holidays.

She said she will spend this Thanksgiving away from her children, who reside on the East Coast. She said the separation is something any active duty member of the military faces when stationed away from their family.

“I like turkey just like anybody else,” Caputo said.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


The Rev. Karen Dammann, of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, stops for a picture during a walk with her dog, Pepper, at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018. Dammann, who is an openly gay pastor, invites the community to the longtime, inclusive Thanksgiving celebration at Eagle River United Methodist Camp. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Rev. Karen Dammann, of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, stops for a picture during a walk with her dog, Pepper, at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018. Dammann, who is an openly gay pastor, invites the community to the longtime, inclusive Thanksgiving celebration at Eagle River United Methodist Camp. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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