After being thwarted by a global pandemic, San Francisco’s foremost LGBTQIA+ community center is gearing up to host its first in-person Queer Prom in over three years next month.
While it’s unclear when America’s infatuation with proms — the promenade dance that’s commonly affiliated with dance parties for late-teenage students — began, its first recordings in high school yearbooks started showing up in the 1930s. High school yearbooks at the time showed youths donning semi-formal attire, swooning fellow classmates on the dance floor.
Fast-forward decades later, and prom exists as a pinnacle experience for most American high schoolers; going to prom is synonymous with a coming of age of sorts — a step closer to the adulthood that exists on the other side of senior graduation.
Alas, it’s an experience historically pigeonholed in heteronormativity.
Many queer people (like myself) had to assimilate themselves into the largely unchanged rituals that orbit prom. They might need to code switch; they could find themselves dimming their true selves so as to not come across as off-putting; they might force themselves to act in dishonest ways to their actual character — solely because their safety might be at risk. (Having attended three proms in Texas during my high school years, all of the above rang uncomfortably true.)
Thankfully, San Francisco exists as a bastion for queerness and self-expression… so it’s only fitting that the city’s foremost queer community center, the SF LGBT Center, would host a queer prom, helping wrong the “isolation and uncomfortable experience” LGBTQIA+ people are often subjected to attending their proms of yesteryears.
“For many queer youths, prom can be an isolating and uncomfortable experience,” says Jen Valles, the SF LGBT Center’s director of programs, about the Center’s upcoming queer-focused prom. “Intentionally creating spaces with our community’s lived experiences in mind, we can reimagine very heteronormative ‘rite of passage’ traditions like prom into one of joy, inclusivity, and celebration of and for queer youth.”
The Center’s Queer Prom 2023 comes off a three-year break between the last iteration — an unintended break spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic. For its return, this year’s Queer Prom is organized around providing queer and trans folk an opportunity to experience the prom of their dreams; the said dreamscape will be held on Friday, June 16th, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m..
Per the Center, the prom festivities, which are free to attend for community members between 16 and 24 years old, will feature drag performances, mocktails, dancing, a photo booth, and sustenance fit for nourishing in between dances.
Valles notes that the Center’s LGBTQIA+ promenade dance is an exercise in reclamation for those in attendance: “Our queer-centric prom allows youth to take back this event in an affirming environment without fear of erasure.”
And the Queer Prom’s theme this year is particularly fitting for its roar back into our collective calendars: Opulence.
(FYI: There’s no set dress code; the Center implores attendees to come as they’d like… as their most authentic selves. Should any youth be looking for clothes for the occasion, they can stop by the nonprofit’s Youth Space anytime between Monday through Thursday, between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the SF LGBT Center to look through its clothing closet; all items are free.)
This year’s Queer Prom also comes amid a time marked by a record number of anti-drag and anti-trans legislation being both introduced and passed in City and State legislative bodies. It, too, coincides with an increasing number of trans people being murdered; San Franciso saw the recent fatal shooting of Banko Brown, a 24-year-old Black trans man, by an armed Walgreens security guard.
Suffice it to say that inviting queer and trans folk into a safe space is of the utmost importance, right now.
“We recognize the value of building safe and joyful spaces like Queer Prom and its power in strengthening our community during challenging times,” Valles tells us. “We want youth to know they are accepted and loved—no matter what, and we hope they feel comfortable enough to be their authentic selves at Queer Prom!”
For more information on Queer Prom 2023, click here — and you can RSVP one free ticket per person; all monetary donations toward the Center help support its areas of Financial Services, Employment Services, Youth Services, Community Programs, Cultural Programs, and Room Rentals; more information on the initiatives and philanthropic agendas can be seen at sfcenter.org/resources.