Controversial Camp Sister Spirit Celebrates 10 Years

Published: Sep. 22, 2003 at 2:21 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2003 at 5:45 PM CDT
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The feminist retreat that thrust a small Mississippi town into the national spotlight is celebrating its tenth anniversary this weekend. Controversy erupted when Wanda and Brenda Henson, a lesbian couple, opened Camp Sister Spirit in Ovett.

Danielle Thomas traveled to Ovett. In the first of a two-part series "Camp Sister Spirit: Ten Years Later", she tells us whether time has healed any wounds there.

Back in 1993, there were a lot of people who felt Jones County was not the place for a lesbian run retreat. Some of those people used threats and scare tactics to close it down. It didn't work.

Camp Sister Spirit co-founder Brenda Henson talked with WLOX-TV about why she stayed and what life is like after all these years.

"These guys had chased me home and tried to run me off the road," was one of many frightening experiences Brenda described to television host Oprah Winfrey in the early 90s. She and her partner Wanda said they were being harassed, threatened, and made to feel unwelcome in Ovett because they were lesbians.

"We tried to get bug spray at one point and the guy who advertises in the paper all the time said he couldn't come out here," said Brenda Henson. "We needed gravel and someone threatened to burn the guy's truck if he brought gravel out here."

Brenda says time has changed many hearts in Ovett. In 2003 she spends more time at Camp Sister Spirit relaxing and enjoying the company of friends and family than she does looking over her shoulder.

"That's been now 1995, 1996 when those kinds of things were happening," she said "Now we've got lots and lots of friends. We've got terrific neighbors that have gotten to know us."

Belinda Beasley is one of those neighbors. At one time her name was on a lawsuit to run the retreat out of Ovett. This weekend she helped blow out the candles on the 10 year anniversary cake.

"Just because they're different. Just because they do different things than I do. They're still people. It's all about acceptance," said Beasley. "I think people are afraid of what they do not know. They've come a long way but they do still have some more to go."

"You can't just shatter people's dreams because you don't agree with them," said Brenda. "It's made things a lot better for a lot of people because we've been out there on the line which is a hard scary place to be sometimes but I think in the end that it's been worth it."