As the DJ transitioned to a new song, it was eerily quiet for a moment. Then, a few clear strong keystrokes from a single piano could be heard as My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” captured the full attention of nearly 200 teenagers as they stood almost at attention waiting for the lyrics to begin. Then you heard “When I was a young boy …” in unison with all of their voices. It was a magical. It was one of those anthem moments.
I have nothing but horrific memories of my high school prom. But you see this prom was different. This prom was an alternative prom held to kick off the 2019 prom season. My organization, ALSO Youth, has been lucky enough to host in partnership with The Out-of-Door Academy an alternative prom for the LGBTQ+ youth of west central Florida for six years. This year was our biggest year yet!
Through the generosity of an anonymous sponsor over 250 youth from about 30 schools were able to register for FREE tickets to this year’s “OUTer Space” themed affair. This was a 25 percent increase from last year, about 200 registrations, and a 60 percent increase from 2017, which saw about 150 registrations. I believe the youth that traveled the farthest came to Lakewood Ranch from North Fort Myers High School.
So, what you really want to know are all of the important details—the food, the decor, the outfits and the superlatives winners, right? So let’s set the scene. Imagine a black box theater with the entire solar system hanging above the dance floor, including a lighted galaxy from far, far away and a larger-than-life video screen bringing amazing outer space visuals to life. The prom even experienced a few “crashers” as a UFO and its occupants were seen headed to the dance floor. This was not the balloon and streamers affair I remembered from my youth. This scene was created through the volunteer efforts of the professional designers who are members of the Interior Design Society Sarasota Chapter. It was truly out of this world!
We had food for days. Really amazing food, too, especially the vegan and gluten-free options. We had a photo booth. We had a DJ with killer tunes the youth had pre-recommended, and of course, he took requests. We had a red carpet and a backdrop for selfies. Some youth were dressed to the nines and others came in costume. We had everything I could imagine my teenage self would want for a prom.
But this prom had so much more. For the second year in a row, we had a “Salon” before the evening began where professional stylists from Shear Rituals volunteered their time to make our kiddos look AH-mazing. At one point, I walked up to see how things were going, turned the corner and stopped in my tracks. The place was packed and bursting with wonderful energy. I had one of those “proud papa” moments that would happen repeatedly on this night. You see, all of these youth—every single one of the LGBTQ+ kids I fight for—are one of my kids. They are all one of your kids.
And folks, it’s all about the kids. It’s about giving them opportunities to grow into young adults that are prepared to navigate the world they must inherit. It’s about ensuring they have the necessary skills to cope with and celebrate the everyday as well as the special occasions in life. Prom is more than a dance. For many youth, it is their first formal experience and that experience can color future galas, weddings, holiday parties and more that they will attend throughout their adult lives. These events can be particularly stressful for many people, but especially for our transgender, enby, nonbinary or gender expansive youth. For many, attendance takes courage. Many never find comfort or inclusion at these formal social events, and so they forgo these celebrations. They choose invisibility over attendance … but that can change. That MUST change.
For the last 10 years, Transgender Day of Visibility has been held on March 31. As I reflect on this year’s prom and revel in all the “proud papa» moments I had, I can’t help but feel hopeful. I hope that this prom has taught these youth that dressing up for special occasions can be fun. I hope that they continue to have the confidence to attend weddings and galas and other fancy-dress parties. I hope they have found the courage to celebrate. I hope they are or can be unafraid to be visible.
Unafraid to be visible. It’s a powerful idea. We were all once those “young boys” from My Chemical Romance’s powerful anthem. We must attend the “Black Parade» and choose to “be the savior of the broken, the beaten and the damned.” We must defeat the demons of discrimination and invisibility.
As I remember our kids singing the chorus with abandon as this song resonated through the theater and through my heart, I remember thinking that I hoped we adults could be the heroes these kids need. But then I realized, they are my heroes.
And “we’ll carry on.”