First annual Pride Prom celebrates LGBTQIA+ community

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  • In many ways, Pride Prom mirrored a traditional school dance, but with a special emphasis on inclusion and diversity.

  • Unlike traditional proms, the event was free for all students, supported by a wide variety of donors.

  • Students took snapshots at the event’s photo booth to celebrate their time at the district’s first Pride Prom.

  • Many students felt comfortable expressing their identity through their personal fashion choices.

On Friday, April 14, the San Mateo Union High School District hosted its first county-wide Pride Prom at the College of San Mateo, offering students an inclusive alternative to traditional prom. Pride Prom provided all LGBTQIA+ students and their allies with the opportunity to enjoy a night with friends in a safe, welcoming and inclusive space — free of those who may have been unsupportive or judgmental about the expression of their sexualities and gender identities. The event was organized with assistance from the College of San Mateo, Coast Pride, San Mateo County Pride Center, County of San Mateo LGBTQ Commission and San Mateo County Office of Education. Favorite songs were played by DJ Steve-O to get students moving on the dance floor, and food and drinks were offered to those in need of a refresher.

“[Pride Prom] is an opportunity for students to come as they are and feel safe,” Director of Special Education Holly Wade, who helped organize the event, said. “They can be in an environment with other students who are either sharing their same experience or are welcoming and supportive allies.”

While a school dance is on its face welcoming to all students regardless of their sexuality and gender identity, freshman Atlas McGobers, a dance attendee, was still hesitant about fully being themselves during these memorable nights.

“I’ve been to a couple of other dances organized by the school but this is definitely the first dance that I have felt the most welcomed in,” McGobers said. “I feel like I won’t be judged here based on how I dress or how I act or how I dance.”

For McGobers, Pride Prom was another option — and it was up to each student to decide whether they wanted to go to the traditional prom, Pride Prom, both proms or neither.

“We do not encourage students not to go to their high school proms, but we did want to make sure there was this option,” Wade said. “It’s actually pretty hard to find an annual event that supports students who want a place where they can be themselves and feel safe. “

One of the key features of Pride Prom, as distinguished from traditional prom, was its free admission. To guarantee that all students could attend Pride Prom, the district raised over $11,000 from donations and sponsorships. In contrast, tickets to this year’s Burlingame prom cost $115 each.

“People worked really hard to make [the dance] free and because of that, so many students who might not otherwise have been able to go can come and have fun with their friends,” senior Val Verechnly said.

Ensuring that all were able to attend this event is important because the dance enabled students like McGobers to embrace their identities however they choose.

“[At this dance], I am around a lot of people who I have something in common with, instead of people who will make fun of me,” McGobers said. “That makes it easier for me to just be myself.”

One way students could do so was through their personal fashion choices. With the intention of making the dance accessible to all students, the school district partnered with the Princess Project to provide free prom dresses to those who may not have been able to afford one. Additionally, the College of San Mateo cosmetology program donated student time to help with attendees’ hair and makeup choices.

“In our marketing materials, we said ‘Come as you are,’” Wade said. “That has to do with being who you are and expressing yourself.”

Not only did the dance offer an opportunity for students to fully celebrate themselves during a memorable night, but it also fostered a sense of community within the entire LGBTQIA+ student community.

“On a regular basis, it’s kind of hard for me to interact with someone who goes to a completely different school than I do,” Verechnly said. “But at an event like this, I can talk, dance and connect with all the other queer people in the area.”

School dances are inherently fun, joyful events where everyone can forget their worries, and simply enjoy a fun night, dancing with their friends. That is exactly why Pride Prom was the perfect event to bring together students in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“People should come [to this dance] so that they can see that the world is actually a bit brighter, a bit more colorful and a bit more gay than it seems at first sight,” Verechnly said.