Queer Youth Prom
For many high school juniors and seniors, the end of the school year signals the beginning of summer, the onslaught of finals and prom season. Last year, the San Mateo County Pride Initiative and the County’s LGBTQ Commission was approached by four queer and trans local high school students from Mercy High School who felt an urgency and desire to craft their own space for queer and trans youth to celebrate summer, the end of the school year, and build a safer space for queer and trans youth to surround themselves with their community. Like many adult LGBTQ+ community members might share, school dances are often not the safest space for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples to share their love and express themselves. Too often, LGBTQ+ community members find themselves having to stifle their creative self expression and hide their love and affection in public spaces. For many adult community members, the bar and club scene exists as an alternative space to center LGBTQ+ love and joy. However, youth often do not often have the chance to experience LGBTQ+-only events/spaces. Queer Youth Prom, according to last year’s team of youth organizers, is a way for LGBTQ+ teens to get a taste of what being free and truly expressing their love, joy, creativity and desire can look like.
The first Queer Youth Prom at the San Mateo County Pride Center, a masquerade ball, was held on June 26th, 2017 and hosted at least 55 youth, a rocking DJ from Sacramento by the name of DJ LadyChar. Youth from different high schools throughout the County were able to come together, enjoy dinner, and dance together in celebration of their community.
This year, the San Mateo County Pride Center pulled together a group of different adult and youth volunteers from high school, local colleges and the general community to put together another night of food, photo ops, dance offs, entertainment and sheer love and joy to kick off the beginning of Pride Season. With the great help of organizations like Outlet of Adolescent Counseling Services, Project MORE Foundation, the LGBTQ Commission; Genentech, Lawyers Title Insurance CO., Notre de Namur University and the Youth Leadership Institute, we were able to throw an amazing Hollywood-themed prom.
This year’s queer prom featured a red carpet photo-booth with cardboard cutouts of famous queer and trans celebrities like RuPaul, Demi Lovato, Hayley Kiyoko and Laverne Cox for youth to pose with; an amazing chocolate fountain and taco bar as well as live musical performances from two Bay Area queer musical acts. Dennis Xiong from Gay Asian Pacific Alliance performed an intimate acoustic sing-along set, and Cassie Levy and her band got the crowd hopping along to her original folk songs and covers of favourites like Bad Romance by Lady Gaga.
Throughout the night, we saw teens from as far as Pacifica and Palo Alto dance together and create a warm and loving community. As I walked throughout the Center during the night I witnessed a group of young queers excitedly gather around a table outside next to the photobooth, sharing stories about how each of them came out to their friends and families.
“You know, I actually made a powerpoint presentation”
“Oh my god, I made a flip book.”
“So…it was a 2 hour car ride and….”
were just some tidbits of the stories that were shared.
Returning to the dance floor when the sun set, the room lit up with an energetic and “YAAAAASSS”-provoking dance battle. Participants formed a large dance circle, as one does at any dancing event, and youth filled the space shaking their butts to their favourite tunes. At one point two teens held a vogue battle and another group of teens showed off their waltzing skills. Volunteers joined the crowd of teens and snapped their fingers, woo’d, and shouted their appreciation and applause for every person who was invigorated with courage to show off their dancing abilities. Such encouragement even inspired a youth who had exclaimed earlier in the evening to their friends, “I’m not going to dance. I’m not the dancing type!” to join in on the festivities when the Cupid Shuffle and other must-play line dances like the Cha Cha Slide came on.
Youth dancing and singing along to “Too Good At Goodbyes” by Sam Smith
Like every prom, the evening ended with a number of slow dance numbers for the couples and newly coupled. Holding hands, swaying from side to side, singing (and sometime shouting) along to the lyrics, it was easy to become overwhelmed by emotion and the feeling of love that radiated from the dance floor. The adults in the room were, of course, teary eyed at witnessing the teenagehood that many of us wish we had been able to experience.
When the clock hit 10:30PM, the lights came back on, the DJ said goodnight and everyone rushed in a hurry to take final photos with the photobooth. About 40 youth piled together amongst the celebrity cutouts holding props, group hugging, and smiling their biggest and gayest smiles. Phone numbers and the obligatory instagram @’s were exchanged as we closed up the evening and encouraged the youth to take home any number of props from cardboard cutouts to the photobooth props.
As youth slowly left the Pride Center, volunteers were met with smiles, laughter, warm hugs and many words of thanks and appreciation for this special night that we were able to create with a team of adults and youth in just a few months. The events of the evening showed the beauty of our community and emphasized the need for queer-centered spaces for youth. Dances like this, give youth a space and opportunity to be surrounded by other queer and trans youth and experience the love and joy of queer community in ways that they might not be able to experience in a different time and context. We hope to be able to provide more and more opportunities like this in the coming years, opening our doors to more and more queer youth dances, organizing meetings and other youth-centered and youth-led events.
If you are interested in becoming involved with the planning process for next year’s Queer Youth Prom, keep connected with the San Mateo County Pride Center through our newsletter and social media outlets for an announcement in the Fall.