THESSALON -- A pair of men in Thessalon are being recognized for providing a safe place for LGBTQ2S+ youth to explore their identities while helping to change social attitudes.

Harry Stewart and Christopher Southin, co-founders of Rainbow Camp, are receiving a Meritorious Service Decoration from the office of the Governor General.

"It was basically a shock," said Stewart. "It’s pretty amazing to be honest."

"It’s an incredible, awesome feeling to have our work recognized," said Southin. "It was a total shock, disbelief when we found out about it. We heard about it middle of December. We actually thought it was a joke initially."

Rainbow Camp was established in 2009 and is run from Stewart and Southin’s home in Thessalon. Stewart said the camp serves as a gathering space for LGBTQ2S+ youth and allies.

"They do camping stuff, there’s educational stuff, there is fun stuff, outdoor stuff," said Stewart. "But the big thing is to let them be themselves in a place where they can feel free to express themselves however they want to."

"We’re so happy that our campers have embraced Rainbow Camp, our vision and being able to share this," added Southin. "It’s a wonderful place, and not only a safe place, but it’s a place of understanding and compassion."

Last year’s Rainbow Camp was a virtual event due to COVID-19, and this year’s camp will be as well. However, Stewart said last year’s virtual camp was well received and he’s expecting more of the same this year.