Last Saturday, Santa Ana’s LGBT Center on 4th St. welcomed adolescents of all sexualities and identities to boogie the night away at Queer Prom. It had the fundamentals of a typical prom – tasty food, a poppin’ photo booth, and a DJ playing only the best throwback hits, but there were a few elements that made it significantly stand out from the cookie cutter prom experience. Improv, noise band QTPi Xpress provided some tunes as massive balloons that read “QUEER” floated over the party. Most importantly, the prom represented unity and empowerment among all the guests who attended. Queer Prom 2017 allowed a great number of teens to let loose and break free from the shackles of social constructs.
The event, now in its seventh year, was organized by Youth Program Manager Stephanie Camacho-Van Dyke. Camacho-Van Dyke started up Queer Prom for the simple fact that some schools enforce regulations that inhibit students from having equal access to prom, making it difficult for them to attend. She wanted to provide a space she didn’t have while she was in high school and make it accessible for the upcoming generations. At Queer Prom, attendees could bring whomever they wanted whether they were friends or partners and freely express themselves without any judgment.
“The youth are much more creative in how they express themselves and are a lot more comfortable in their identities,” Camacho-Van Dyke says. “When you have that solid foundation of being able to be who you are and authentically live as you want, I think that goes a long way. To create this center location where folks are able to meet, talk, engage with one another – I think it’s pretty powerful within itself.”
Queer Prom was first held at churches that were accepting of all sexualities, and eventually, Camacho-Van Dyke got offered to host it at their current location at The Center OC in Santa Ana. This year’s prom was a success in that it drew in youth hailing not only from Orange County, but LA and Riverside County as well.
Saturday night showed not only those who were 14-20 years old a good time, but those who have been graduated for years now as well. Chaperone, Danielle Avecedo, among others got a second chance to enjoy prom when they felt they couldn’t enjoy it to their fullest extent in high school.
“I think about young high school me, and how much I would’ve loved to come to a place where I could just be free, have my friends, and meet other people that were like me,” Avecedo says. “Seeing it happening here where all these people are getting to know each other…where they can come in and be themselves and present however they want and be courteous to one another – it’s really kind of magical.”
QTPi Xpress, a band consisting of four transgender women, performed two sets and spiced up their usual screaming/political material with strictly feisty and fun covers for the prom. They learned 15 songs in less than a month to prepare for the night, and it paid off considering the initially shy crowd sang at the top of their lungs and danced to songs like “Nineteen” by Tegan and Sara, “Malibu” by Hole, and especially, “I’m Not Okay” by My Chemical Romance. Lead singer, Josie Wreck, had some inspiring words to say both on stage and after the performance.
“Even though representation and acceptance is growing and growing, I think high schools and American culture are still very hetero-normative,” Wreck says. “With internet bullying, trolling, and that kind of stuff, events like this is where everyone from around that identifies in this way and feels marginalized can come be normal…you are normal even though everyone around you is telling you you’re not. Come be normal and come be who you are.”
Attendees could be seen flashing the biggest smiles, taking selfies with their friends, and starting conversations with new faces from other cities. Some were home-schooled and had never been to prom, while others preferred to go to Queer Prom over the prom held at their school, or even went to both. Regardless, it was an experience many adolescents will reminisce on and cherish.
“A lot of people are denied this kind of thing or the fun that they have just because of their sexuality and it’s just not right,” attendee Alyna Ornellas says. “It’s hard to accept who you are, but once you do, everything just becomes easier and life is just a lot more fun in general.”