The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
The American Dream – Camp Sister Spirit Mississippi


“We do not seek tolerance and acceptance. We seek freedom from oppression, intimidation, and harassment. We seek justice and a legal system that is capable and willing to defend our rights.”
- Wanda Henson’s testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, July 6, 1994

Sean Mc Aughey • 2 February 2006

Courageous Human Wrong Stoppers - Camp Sister Spirit

The co-founders of Camp Sister Spirit, Brenda and Wanda Henson a married couple, are full-time social change and community enhancement activists, adult educators, human rights defenders and courageous human wrong stoppers who have initiated, developed and established a food bank, escort service to reproductive clinics, crisis line, counseling and referral services, displaced homemakers’ refuge and a clothes closet program at their safe space in Ovett, Mississippi. They also produce and host the Gulf Coast Women’s Music Festival and outreach their services to women and children in San Salvador and Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

Mission Statement

Camp Sister Spirit is a feminist retreat and safe space located in Ovett, Mississippi. The group was co-founded by Brenda and Wanda Henson (Wanda changed her surname to Henson, on December 16, 1988 to honour their special love bond by sharing Brenda’s mother’s surname). Sister Spirit Incorporated/Camp Sister Spirit’s mission statement is to make available information, referral, education, advocacy and meeting space to address social issues including but NOT LIMITED TO racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, looksism, fat oppression, anti-Semitism, family abuse/violence, sexual abuse/incest, housing, hunger, health care, fair labor practices, animal rescue, economic justice, and environmental issues. CSS Website:

Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for American lesbian pioneers

Brenda Henson M. Ed, is a former barmaid from Loveland, Ohio. Wanda Henson MA, from Pascagoula, Jackson County Mississippi is a former Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher and presently a nurse. The women first met in 1981, working at domestic violence refuges and women’s clinics in Gulfport. Both women served as escorts for teenagers running what Brenda Henson once described to me as “a gauntlet of abuse and terror”, while going to from abortion clinics. Both women were married and mothers at 16 years old, both women have 2 children. Wanda lost custody of her children after she handed them to her ex husband, believing he was taking them on holiday. However, he refused to return the children. Wanda was in full time employment as a nurse; she owned her own home but like many other mothers seeking custodial rights in Mississippi, she lost her custodial battle. Faced with the legal loss of her children, it would be easy to predict what human wrong the Hensons’ would seek to eradicate next. They added advocating for women involved in custody disputes, which might include mothers seeking custodial litigation in progressive states. (In the mid-to-late 1980’s, Mississippi mothers Karen Newsom and Dorrie Singley were forced to ‘kidnap’ their daughters and/or flee the state to rescue their (allegedly) sexually abused children from court-awarded paternal custody (After Newsom’s arrest, the Hensons picketed the jail on her behalf). See: Sister, Fear Has No Place Here by Phyllis Chesler, Ph.D

Southern Wild Sisters Unlimited

In 1987 the Henson’s leased a much needed community resource and base for their ever growing advocacy. This ranged from gay and lesbian concerns, abortion clinic escort provision, assisting mothers with custodial rights, sexual abuse victims, HIV treatment and food provision for those less fortunate. However, the centre, the Southern Wild Sisters Unlimited community bookshop, was forced to close down within 2 years. A forced closure attributed to prejudice and ignorance surrounding HIV and for others within the Gulfport community, the use of lavender paint by the Hensons at the front of their shop was perceived as strident or defiant. A step that would open flood gates of vilification and further pave the way for a “witch hunt” against the bookshop owners, primarily from religious fundamentalists. This closure prompted a search by the Hensons for a base they could own outright and this opportunity arose in a 120 acre pig farm site in Ovett, the present day home of Camp Sister Spirit.

Jones County Mississippi – a 1960’s Klu Klux Klan Hot Bed

The Mississippi Senate voted in February 1995 to abolish slavery - 130 years after the rest of the country. Mississippi is the only state that never ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, holding out because slave owners were not compensated for freed slaves. (Center for Democratic Renewal, 1996)

Despite all, that has gone before, the Hensons’ journey to right human wrongs remains unassuming in every aspect. The Hensons are not always the “helpers”. Sometimes, they are the recipients and likewise they are not always the educators, they are the pupils. Their camp, a 120 acre site in Ovett, Jones county Mississippi was purchased in July 1993, for $60,000 and by all outward appearance the location was a perfect, idyllic and isolated rural safe space setting. However, any sister spirit euphoria was short lived, because what followed shaped the “camp sister” dream into an intense 2 year nightmare and struggle, rife with fear, akin to the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan lynching era, 30 years previous, when Ovett’s townsfolk and leaders learned that their new neighbours, the Hensons, were Lesbians.

“Die Bitch”

The Hensons’ puppy had been shot, stuffed with sanitary napkins, then draped over the camp mailbox with the note “Die Bitch.” See Southern Success Story by Bonnie J. Morris.

Ovett’s opposition against the Lesbian humanitarians manifested itself in Camp shoot- bys, burnings, intimidation, violence, bigotry, hate, smear, the killing of the Henson’s pet puppy, law suits and television talk show appearances and intervention by federal mediators from the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service on the instruction of US Attorney General, Janet Reno. The public opposition against Camp Sister Spirit was headed up by about 18 Southern Baptist Ministers and the Mississippians for Family Values Group. A campaign the “Sisters” countered with their gentle but permeating humility and a determined desire to remain true at all costs, as visible humanitarian women, feminists and lesbians. It was this deep determination within the liberated American women, (who also, happened to be in love with each other), that emerged from the “Old South” style violent confrontation strongest and indeed, steadfast in the “post Jim Crow” state described by Wanda Henson when speaking to a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee, July 6, 1994 as a state where, “The traditional Southern standard that lesbians and gay Americans are sub-human must end.” A minuscule beginning to this long end arrived in July 1995, when Judge Frank Mac Kenzie ruled against a nuisance suit, filed by the Ovett, Mississippians for Family Values’ and when Mac Kenzie declared camp Sister Spirit a legal retreat.

Wedding Day

“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals,” wrote Chief Justice Margaret Marshall. “It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.” 18/11/2004

The Hensons are a loving, human, lesbian, long term (more than 20 years) couple, who were recently legally married in April 2004. Ironically, their same sex legal marriage occurred in Massachusetts and not their home state of Mississippi. Therefore, if Justice Marshall’s logic is followed through and applied to Mississippi and 16 other American states which ban same sex marriages. Could this mean, 17 US states including President Bush, who has placed federal anti-gay marriage amendment as a priority, are indignant, disproportionate and potentially confirming “the creation of second class citizens.” (Gays thankful for acceptance one year after Mass. marriage ruling)


During my short time around the Hensons in 2001, it became clear for me that the “Sisters” are acutely attuned to the pain of others and fully committed to alleviating the cause of suffering. I quickly recognized an incredible sister spirit empathy which emanated with ease from Brenda and Wanda Hensons’ extraordinary love of people and their assured spirit to triumph over adversity. The “Sisters” are determined to be a provider of safe “Sister Spirit” refuge for hurt and oppressed people. They have a dream and they want not only to fulfill it but to deliver it. Their dream is borne from years of hurting, isolation, loneliness and scorn. It is from such experience that they can instinctively derive a position of knowing exactly what they don’t want and immediately set out to stop it happening.

Worldwide Sister Spirit

More than 4000 volunteers, gay, lesbian and other, from around the globe have traveled to serve at Camp Sister Spirit. This bears testimony to Camp Sister Spirit’s ever growing success and popularity. Furthermore, a recent promotional Camp Sister Spirit tour of Ireland in 2001 was initially inspired by a male lecturer and subsequently spearheaded by heterosexual male students attending the University of Ulster at Jordanstown. The proposal of a Camp Sister Spirit tour endorsed and financed by the University was delayed then disregarded as “too controversial” by the campus vice chancellor (a female). Similar soundings, implicit disapproval, lack of support and at best only feigned interest followed from many student representatives and national officers, leaving the Jordanstown students and its campus union representatives standing alone within the Irish Universities and Students’ Union sector in relation to a Camp Sister Spirit, Irish tour.

Next Issue - Camp Sister Spirit Irish Tour 2001




Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

5 February 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Murder in the Street
Anthony McIntyre

The Murder of Brian Stewart
Marie Duffy

Eamonn McCann

President Reinventing Our History
David Adams

End Coalition with US
Michael McKevitt

"Do Not Become Recruiting-Sergeant for PSNI", Reiss is Advised
Sean Mc Manus

An Endless Circle
Mick Hall

The American Dream – Camp Sister Spirit Mississippi
Sean Mc Aughey

Call Centres
Liam O Ruairc

Reaction to GEM Article
Pascal Stil

More Spies May be Lurking in Sinn Féin's Cupboard
Anthony McIntyre

30 January 2006

One Year On
Anthony McIntyre

SF's Support 'Lay With the People Involved in Robert's Murder'
K Quinn

Our Fenian Dead
Brendan Hughes

Murky Maghaberry
Anthony McIntyre

Rebutting a Defamatory Article
Declan Carroll

Getting the Facts Right
Statement from McKevitt & Sands Family

"Close Enough for Government Work"
Chris Fogarty

Boxing Shadows
Dr John Coulter

When is Enough, Enough?
Mick Hall

Serving the Agenda of Two Masters
Anthony McIntyre

St Pat's Day
Niall Corey

The Letters page has been updated.



The Blanket




Latest News & Views
Index: Current Articles
Book Reviews
The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002
Republican Voices