''We take the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, which looks like a high school cafeteria, and turn it into a nightclub atmosphere comparable to anything you'd see on the East Coast,'' says Steve Elkins of CAMP Rehoboth. He's talking about the nonprofit's annual dance fundraiser Love, which takes place this Sunday, July 4. This year's theme: Love4All.
Elkins and his partner of 32 years, Murray Archibald, started CAMP Rehoboth in 1991 as a way to ''lessen the tensions among the growing gay and lesbian community and the larger community.'' The first word in the organization's title is an acronym standing for ''Create A More Positive.'' In 1993, a ''horrendous gay bashing'' propelled the organization to rally the whole community toward greater acceptance. In addition to the magazine Letters, an LGBT community center and health outreach and support programs, CAMP Rehoboth also does legislative work, recently helping pass hate-crimes legislation for the state of Delaware. And every year, they conduct diversity training for summer police officers.
Love, now in its 16th year, attracts up to 1,000 people with an open bar, lighting by Texas-based designer Paul Turner and music this year by popular Los Angeles-based Joe Gauthreaux. ''He's young, energetic, plays phenomenal music, and is one of the best DJs in the country,'' says Elkins.
''[Love] has gone from being just a party that a few people were putting on that attracted mostly their friends, to being something that's a cross-section of the community,'' says Elkins. And along with CAMP Rehoboth's Labor Day party Sundance, Love is the only big dance party in town. Though smaller venues host popular dance nights, Elkins doesn't foresee a large dance club opening along the lines of the old Strand, which Elkins managed, or the Renegade. ''Everywhere you look now, there's a neighborhood behind you," he says. "So it's hard to find a space that would do that.''
Elkins is optimistic, however, that younger people -- especially those in their 20s -- are returning to Rehoboth. ''I think we've turned a corner,'' he says. ''And I didn't think that two years ago.''
Tension between gays and straights has certainly dissipated.
Of the 50,000 to 70,000 people who weekend in Rehoboth -- swelling the year-round population of just several thousand -- Elkins estimates that in addition to 20 percent who are gay and lesbian, as many as 30 percent these days are what he calls ''gay heterosexuals: Their sexual orientation might be hetero, but their lifestyle is gay, and most of their friends are gay.'' Some of them even volunteer on the organization's board or at its events, including Love.
''They just love what we do.''
Love takes place Sunday, July 4, from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Rehoboth Beach Convention Center, 229 Rehoboth Ave, Rehoboth Beach, Del. Regular tickets are $45; a host pass, offering access to the Love Lounge and a t-shirt, costs $100. Visit camprehoboth.com.