Be yourself, dance with PRIDE

Story by Kathryn A. Hackman

Prom, along with baseball and apple pie, create the red, white and blue experience. It’s a dance that nearly every American can look back on or look forward to. It’s a glamorous night of ball gowns and boutonnieres, a rite of passage for many teens across the nation that fits within society’s hetero-normative expectations.

Since the dawn of prom, it’s always been the same. A boy asks a girl to the dance. The boy wears a tuxedo, and the girl wears a dress. And that is that. However, that narrative is an exclusionary one. What about the boy who doesn’t want to ask a girl to the dance? Or the girl who doesn’t want to wear a dress? Or the person who doesn’t see their place in an event so heavily influenced by traditional gender roles?

Historically teens in the LGBTQ+ community have been left out of this quintessential high school experience. It was not uncommon for same-sex couples to be completely barred from attending the event.

“Even if schools allow students to be who they are, that still doesn’t guarantee a safe environment,” said Liesl Archbold, the youth & family program coordinator: ages 14-20 at the Utah Pride Center.

However, out of this isolation came one of Utah’s most vibrant and inclusive events to ever take place within the Salt Lake Valley — Queer Prom. For over a decade, the Utah Pride Center has put on a prom that can shine with the best of them. It’s a party where everyone is invited to be themselves.

This is a dance founded on authenticity and inclusivity. Teens from all over the west travel to Salt Lake City to experience the kind of prom that everyone who is interested in attending, should have. Members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies alike come together for a night of fun times and fond memories.

Gabe Glissmeyer attended two Queer Proms before working the event in 2014. “For allies, it’s a good way to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. It prompts them to think about why the queer community needs their own prom. And second, it’s just so fun!” Glissmeyer said.

In 2019, the dance was held at the Salt Lake City Library. And with over 1,000 people in attendance, the energy was bursting at the seams.

At Prom 2020, attendees can anticipate being whisked away by the theme, Out at Sea. The main floor of the library will be a party on the beach, complete with dancing, snacks, and mocktails. The mocktails are a fan favorite at the prom.

“I get to mix them and make them,” Liesl Archbold said. “In fact, we make the syrups right here in the center! Don’t worry, I have a food handlers license,” she said, laughing.

As attendees leave the aloha sands on the main floor and head downstairs, they should prepare themselves for an under-the-sea twist.

Here they may find the photo booth, ready to capture the evening. Or perhaps attendees will stumble upon the psychics who can offer a glimpse into the future.

“The psychics are a relatively new addition to our prom. A few years ago, we did a carnival-themed Queer Prom, and they were a huge hit! So we’ve had them back every year since,” Archbold said.

Because the party never stops, guests can step away from the lively event for some relaxing fun too. The Chill Space is something that sets Queer Prom apart from the rest. It’s a room away from the noise, dimly lit by fairy lights, and filled with blow-up furniture. Here guests can find coloring pages, sensory glitter jars, and earplugs.

It is no wonder Queer Prom has been such a success. Brianna Burton attended Queer Prom in 2013 and still looks back on it fondly. “I remember thinking how cool it was to put on a prom for kids who don’t feel comfortable getting to go to their own school’s prom.”

The only thing teens should worry about at Queer Prom is whether their favorite song made it onto the playlist, and nothing more. Safety is of high priority to the Utah Pride Center. Every adult in attendance, whether they are staff, the photographer, or the DJ, goes through a background check.

As for when the Queer Prom 2020: Out at Sea will take place? The date has yet to be determined. In response to the global spread of COVID-19 and Gov. Gary Herbert’s recommendation to limit gatherings, the dance has been postponed. As more information is gathered, the Pride Center will post updates on the event on both its Facebook and Instagram accounts.