Students dusted off their dancing shoes and broke out their most fabulous outfits for the first post-COVID-19 pandemic Pride Prom, hosted by the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services on March 23 in the Emerson Suites.
An initiative started in 2007, motivated by students’ desires of having an excuse to dress up and redo one of high school’s most awaited nights was brought back in Spring 2023 by Open Pages, the Transgender and Non-Binary Residential Learning Community; PRISM, a student organization focused on topics relating to the LGBTQ+ community; and other students that wanted to be involved. Luca Maurer, executive director of Student Equity, Inclusion and Belonging and director of LGBTQ+ Education, Outreach and Services, and Grace Dosdall, pride fellow at the LGBT Center, started meeting with the interested students from those organizations once a week since the beginning of the semester to organize the event.
“When I was a student, a lot of students didn’t come out until college,” Dosdall said. “So I think in addition to it being a really amazing opportunity for all students to hang out together, it’s also an opportunity to get to redo something as yourself and for a lot of students because of COVID, they never went to prom at all. So this is a first time to do prom, just period.”
From the instant polaroids handed out in the photo booth, to the food, decorations and even pride-themed raffle prizes for anyone who RSVPed, Pride Prom had everything that it needed to be a memorable night for everyone.
“We wanted to feel as close to the real thing, so, like, if people RSVP on engage, they got a ticket because I still have my junior prom ticket,” Dosdall said. “So, like, a little something to keep.”
Sophomore February Schneck, student employee in the LGBT Center who helped in the setup and takedown as well as registering students at the entrance, said about 120 people attended the event. Schneck said the Pride Prom was one of the events with the biggest turnout during their time working in the center.
“A lot of people aren’t lucky enough … to be able to be their most authentic queer selves at their high school proms and so the opportunity to sort of recap, capture that moment and reclaim that moment in a more authentic way — It’s really exciting for all of us,” Schneck said.
Senior Nora Marcus-Hecht said one of the most appealing opportunities Pride Prom presented was not only coming together to celebrate identity but making connections with new people and talking about things happening in the current political climate.
“I went with a group of friends and I was excited to just see so many people I know on campus who I didn’t realize would be there,” Marcus-Hecht said. “It’s kind of coming together and celebrating their queerness. It was a really fun night.”
According to Bloomberg News, 385 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been introduced in 2023 so far, surpassing the numbers for the last five years. Based on the data reported by the American Civil Liberties Union, there has been an increase in bills that target transgender rights, like not providing IDs that accurately reflect people’s identity, denying people necessary health care, public accommodations or preventing people from participating in school activities. Freedom of speech has also been targeted, with states passing bills that ban and censor drag performances and discussion surrounding the LGBTQ+ community in school. Currently, New York State is one of the seven states that does not have any anti-LGBTQ bills that have been referred or passed.
For many students, Pride Prom is more than just a fun event — it is a whole experience, including the week building up to it, planning outfits, figuring out who you are going with and asking friends if they are thinking of attending.
“Even though, you know, events like that can feel like a culmination, they’re also stepping stones for a lot of people too,” Schneck said. “Where it’s both a celebration of the things that I have already embraced for myself and also a chance to try something new.”
Some students, like first-year student Sophia Spring, even went the extra mile and promposed — the act of proposing, a play on both words, specifically when asking another to be one’s date to prom — to their friends to add to the excitement. Marcus-Hecht said even those unsure about attending events like Pride Prom should go celebrate because it is very likely they will find others who feel the same fear of taking this step.
“Coming together to celebrate any sort of identity is important, but especially when we are in trying times when it feels a little scary to be open about your identity.” Marcus-Hecht said. “And right now, more than ever, it’s important to celebrate what makes us who we are.”
The new addition that differentiated this from previous Pride Proms was the music. Schneck said that Maurer and Dosdall understood the complexity of intersectionality and the students advocated for having a silent disco to make the event accessible to all. They wanted to make sure everyone who wanted to go would feel free too, without worrying about being overstimulated by the music. They also made the choice to still have music playing quietly in the background on the speakers so that people could still be engaged in their conversations without the worry of missing their jam when it came on.
“My favorite part was the silent disco because you could take the headphones off and then you could talk to people,” Spring said.
Crucial for setting the tone and in charge of the silent disco was senior Gabriela Cohen, also known as DJ Jolie, who was tasked with creating a fun and inclusive atmosphere. Regardless of having already played at a silent disco before for a Fall 2022 orientation event, she still praised the enthusiasm of the crowd at the Pride Prom — an event she said she had dreamt of doing for a while.
“I really loved it, I think it’s one of the best events that I’ve DJed here,” Cohen said. “It was not just only the best, but it was, I think, the most festive and the most energetic that I’ve seen crowds here in Ithaca.”
This event captured the spirit not only of the LGBT Center, PRISM and Open Pages but the LGBTQ+ community altogether and gave the students an evening of celebration that the college had not organized since 2019. A space for everyone to celebrate that reminded people of the meaningfulness of opportunities like this and how valuable it is to take advantage of them.
“Don’t be afraid to just go looking,” Schneck said. “Come to the center and talk to us. … Maybe big events aren’t your thing. Maybe you’re not seeking a big community, but you’re looking for something more personal, like attention and consultation. … We’re all here and interested in serving all students exactly where they’re at, so … stop by the center, come see what we’re doing and see what works for you.”