Camp Sister Spirit Gives Sanctuary To Many

Lawsuits, bad publicity, and death threats are some of the tactics the founders of a Jones County feminist retreat say opponents have used to try to run them out of town. Now ten years after Brenda and Wanda Henson opened Camp Sister Spirit, they're celebrating. The lesbian couple says at the height of the controversy, they often asked themselves if living out their dream was worth the adversity, but they stood their ground in Ovett.

Danielle Thomas went inside "Camp Sister Spirit: Ten Years Later" and found out that what goes on there may surprise you.

The camp sits at the end of a long winding road. The people who run it, call the camp a feminist education retreat.

"Feminism is the belief that everyone is created equal and that there should be a sense of equality in everything that you do," said camp co-founder Brenda Henson. "That means that you have to weed out and try to eliminate as much oppression as you can whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia."

Escaping homophobia, is one reason why Jamie Harmon leaves her home in Canton each year for the sanctuary of Camp Sister Spirit.

"I have a lover," said Harmon. "She and I can be open and free and enjoy being here, and also be very spiritual and feel closer to God here."

Harmon says her partnership is "like any other marriage. When you have people surrounding you encouraging you to stay together and growing in your faith, it's better for a couple."

Camp Sister Spirit tries to make everyone feel welcome, not just homosexuals. The people there are young and old, gay and straight, black and white.

Henson said the camp "started out with this old barn and a shell of a house and some old pig barns down the way. Now we've created this beautiful place where people come to and camp. They come for meditation. They come for board meetings. Different church groups rent it and it's just made it a real safe space."

In the early days, people against Camp Sister spirit would leave dead animals on their mail boxes. Now the same gate meant to keep trouble out has also welcomed in more than 5,000 visitors from 12 different countries.

"We have lots of students that come in from other parts of the country that aren't familiar with the poverty and the problems in Mississippi and they come here and they learn a lot about it," said Henson.

Brenda Henson says many activist groups have taken note of Camp Sister Spirit's efforts to eliminate racism, sexism, homophobia. She and Wanda were recently were named "Heroines of Achievement" by a Memphis women's group.