This Friday, students will dance, eat and take pictures at Rainbow Pride Union’s (RPU) annual Queer Prom, an event aimed at encouraging students in the queer community to redefine the traditional prom experience.
RPU is an organization dedicated to fostering a safe community where queer students can meet one another, become educated about issues that LGBTQ students and community members face and develop a greater sense of queer pride. Along with weekly meetings, RPU hosts special events like drag shows, HIV testing sessions and queer speed-friending events.
Jacqueline Carey, special events coordinator for RPU and a junior majoring in psychology, said the organization is focused on making a space for queer students to express themselves.
“I think a lot of what we do is more individually focused, having individual people feel comfortable,” Carey said. “One of our main principles is this is a safe space, and whatever happens in this room stays in this room.”
RPU’s upcoming Queer Prom is also referred to as Second Chance Prom, a nod to the need for a more accepting environment than many traditional high schools offer. While recent years have brought a greater acceptance of the queer community, discrimination continues to play a large role in the lives and experiences of LGBTQ individuals, particularly during high school. Some queer students may not have felt safe or comfortable expressing their gender identity at their high school proms, or they may have faced pressure from school officials to not attend with their date of choice. RPU offers a chance for them to attend a prom — complete with music, free food and a photo booth — without fear of retribution.
Carey said this emphasizes the historical value of enabling queer students to have the prom experience that they were denied as high school students, either by social pressures or by direct discrimination.
“It’s mostly a nod to when it was even less likely for people in our community to go to their own school’s prom, because of fear of retaliation,” she said. “It’s called Second Chance because it’s giving you the prom that you wanted and you deserved in high school that you couldn’t go to because you were afraid.”
Last year, Queer Prom was scheduled on the Day of Silence, a nationwide day of protest in which participants take a vow of silence to spread awareness about the harassment and bullying that LGBTQ students face in their daily lives. The event was referred to as the “Night of Noise,” allowing an opportunity for participants in the protest to break their silence in unison in a celebration of queer identity. Because of a scheduling issue, this year’s Queer Prom will be a stand-alone event.
According to Carey, the event is more than just a dance — it’s an opportunity for queer students to rewrite their history and experience prom without reservation, to be themselves surrounded by a community that accepts them for who they truly are.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a really great way to meet students in the LGBTQ community, especially if you’re new and you haven’t really gone out there,” Carey said. “It’s a low-stress environment and it’s just always fun to get dressed up and be you.”
Queer Prom will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in University Union room 209, and will be free to attend.