Sundance is a Perfect Example of Inclusivity
As I have mentioned in the past, my love for Rehoboth is due in large part to CAMP Rehoboth and the people I have met by being a member and attending events like Sundance.
When I started dating my husband Greg in 1989, he had a share in the same beach house as CAMP Rehoboth co-founders Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald. Sundance was in its second year and from that day forward, Greg and I have attended and served as hosts for 30 of the 31 Sundances! The exciting part of that longevity is that we are two of more than 50 others who can make the same claim.
This is a testament to CAMP Rehoboth and its ability to deliver on its value proposition: Creating AMore Positive Rehoboth. The reason CAMP Rehoboth exists is because the nation’s summer capital was not always a place where everyone felt welcome.
Instead of focusing on the reasons why, I want to share my observations on the ways CAMP Rehoboth fosters and nurtures inclusion throughout the state of Delaware.
I want to paint you a picture of what Sundance looked like 30 years ago to this 25-year-old gay man. To do so, here’s a brief history lesson on how Sundance came to be. The first Sundance was held in 1988 in the backyard of their beach house and was in honor of Steve and Murray’s 10th anniversary. When I met Greg the following year and started spending a lot of time at the beach house that summer, I barely knew Steve and Murray but one thing was crystal clear—they and their friends loved to dance.
Throughout that summer, I met the many friends who came to parties or lounged at the house’s fabulous pool. They were both straight and LGBTQ, young and old, worked for members of Congress as well as in the hospitality industry. They included what you would call a who’s who of Rehoboth at the time, including owners of the Blue Moon, Joyce Felton and Victor Pisapia, Murray’s sister Mary Beth Ramsey and her husband Bob, house mothers Steve Hayes and Don Baum, and countless others.
Much to Greg’s dismay, I too loved to dance, having grown up in the disco era. They tell me that I blew the hinges off the closet door when I came out in the summer of 1983. I spent every weekend night at DC’s Lost and Found, dancing the night and tea dances away. You can imagine the squeals I emitted when I learned that the singer of one of my all-time favorite dance floor songs, Pamala Stanley, spent her summers right here in Rehoboth! I almost plotzed!
When the weather did not cooperate that Labor Day weekend, Sundance was hastily moved to the new hotspot, the Strand, a throbbing disco located downtown in a shuttered movie house. I remember dancing in the center of the dance floor with the biggest smile on my face because of the endorphin release from dancing alongside my chosen family in a place where I felt like I belonged. I was home.
Over the years, Sundance became a two-night event that also featured a large silent and live auction. The items were donated by local businesses whose owners wanted to support CAMP Rehoboth and the work it did building bridges between the LGBTQ community and the surrounding area. Because of their in-kind and financial donations, CAMP Rehoboth was able to provide yearly sensitivity training to the local police force to ensure LGBTQ residents and visitors were treated fairly, and protected from discrimination and random acts of violence.
In a previous issue of Letters there was an article about this year’s Sundance. It described the overarching theme, United in Love, and featured an image of the logo, a heart with an overlay featuring these words: Support, Equality, Community, Health, Heart, Hope, Joy, Kindness, and Celebration. When I read it, I was reminded that CAMP Rehoboth is needed more than ever before.
That’s because our community cannot survive the COVID-19 pandemic unless everyone in Rehoboth and surrounding Sussex County has access to quality healthcare, a safe and quality education, and jobs where everyone can thrive regardless of background. Recent events are a painful reminder that we must be intentional when developing solutions so that the African-American, Latinx, immigrant, and transgender neighbors are among those served.
For this and the many other reasons discussed in this column, Greg and I have signed up as Sundance sponsors this year and I urge you to join us. As CAMP Rehoboth celebrates its 30th anniversary, your support is needed more than ever. Even though we may not be dancing together under the huge disco ball in the Convention Center, we will be united under an Umbrella of Love. ▼
Wesley Combs, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a diversity and inclusion expert, executive coach, and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding principal of Combs Advisory Services where he works with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality, and opportunity in the workplace and the community.