StarGayzers: West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre’s Queer Prom

As spring emerges and the end of the 2015 school year approaches, the sight of smiling teens emerging from limousines dressed to the nines with corsages and carefully coiffed hair becomes commonplace. As teenagers, we are taught that our high school prom is meant to be the pinnacle of our high school experience, a celebration of all the hard work and growing that we have done. However, this is not the case for everyone—being anywhere under the LGBTQ umbrella can make prom an extremely stressful and even sad time. Many queer teens feel awkward expressing themselves at prom, be it by bringing a same-sex partner, wanting to wear a tux when others expect them to wear a dress, or having a whole room of straight peers stare when they dance with your date. Many are flat out not allowed.

With this in mind, the West Island LGBTQ Youth Centre in Montreal recently hosted its second annual Queer Prom, at the request of the Centre’s youth. Founded in 2011 at Beaconsfield United Church, as an initiative of the Rev. Shaun Fryday, the Centre has thrived as a drop-in space for any young person 14-21 who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer or Questioning on the West Island of Montreal. Beginning with a trickle of regular members, the centre served over 1000 youth last year with its fun hang-out space and diverse series of workshops and activities.

Last year, the Centre’s volunteers realized there was truly a need for a celebratory queer dance party, as many of the youth frequenting the centre felt uncomfortable at their own proms– a sentiment echoed by the drop-in volunteers, who are all in their twenties. We decided to throw a prom with all the trappings of a high school prom, including a photo booth, wonderful DJ and punch! The first event was such a success that the youth decided it should be an annual event, and our second one was held on May 8th.

The first year was a classic Rainbow theme, but for the sophomore event, the youth voted to have their dance “under the stars”. They worked diligently cutting out hundreds of silver stars, which were strWestIslandStargayzerspromung and suspended from the ceiling where they reflected the space-y laser lights projected by our talented resident DJ Adam. To keep the prom accessible we only charged 20 dollars a ticket, kept costs low, and were generously helped by many community partners. Guests arrived in all their glittery finery, greeted by a lovely buffet, punch, and heavily decorated church hall. One of the special aspects of our prom was a retro paper moon photo booth, where guests could have their photos taken by a talented photographer, and have a portrait with the illusion of sitting on the moon!

It was heartening to see nearly 100 LGBTQ youth dancing freely together and feeling as though they could be themselves—there were several slow dances, and it was truly a joy to see so many Queer couples dancing together. Plans are already underway for a third event next year, which is sure to be the best yet!

— Gabrielle Poitras, LGBTQ Youth Centre Board Member (edited)