Besides graduation, prom has been a long-time rite of passage for high school students. The Parkville High School Chapter of Gender & Sexualities Alliance Network, formerly known as Gay-Straight Alliance Network, has organized a prom designed specifically for LGBT students to feel comfortable and have fun among their peers.
Parkville High School’s Network Advisor Kelly Reardon says the idea for the prom, officially deemed a “LGBTQ-plus mixer,” came from a former chapter member. The member envisioned local gay-straight alliance chapters from Maryland joining together for a semi-formal dance event. Unfortunately, the individual had to withdraw from the organization due to unsupportive family, but Reardon says she still wanted to honor the idea.
The idea is now a full-fledged event occurring on Saturday, April 30 from 7-11 p.m. in Parkville High School’s gymnasium (2600 Putty Hill Ave., Parkville, Md.). The event is free and open to all Maryland high school students, including home schooled, ages 15-21. Parkville is northeast of Baltimore inside the Baltimore Beltway and near White Marsh. Despite the name change, members still sometimes casually refer to the chapter as a “GSA” (gay-straight alliance). Search “GSA Mixer” on Facebook or EventBrite for details.
With a DJ, snacks, soda, pizza and a photography service, there was a lot of organizing that had to be done to bring this idea to life.
Reardon says the Network first had to contact private and public high schools all over Maryland. Financially, Reardon says it was important for the dance to be free since a lot of the invited schools are low-income. Organizers turned to donations to get their party started.The advisor says the group sent out 100 donation letters to surrounding companies and teachers walked on foot to visit businesses after school to encourage them to donate for the cause. Police enforcement also offered to donate their time. Local business interest and financial support helped the project come to fruition.
“We are really fortunate to have all these organizations and local businesses supporting us. We’ve been having GSA meetings, putting together posters, making props for the photo booth and inviting friends from all over,” Reardon says.
Chapter President Annalea Cascio, who identifies as agender, says group members spoke with GLSEN, which has its own gay prom, for guidance. Cascio, 17, says the school’s standard prom isn’t discriminatory, but LGBT representation is slim.
“We had I think two LGBT couples at junior prom,” Cascio says. “They aren’t in GSA but they are LGBT. They didn’t really face any backlash, like girls can wear tuxes. There is more backlash in the school during the day than really at the dances. I guess whenever you’re at the dance you’re kind of in your own little group and you don’t really care as much.”
However, an LGBT-specific prom is something that Cascio and Reardon think will be beneficial for not only the students, but adults as well.
“It’s just really important for us all to connect and build a family if we ever need help or just getting to know LGBT adults. It kind of gives us a perspective on how it is being older and LGBT and how its eventually going to be when we’re not underneath our parents,” Cascio says.
Meanwhile Reardon is excited for the event’s opportunity for her to build connections with other gay-straight alliance advisors.
Students will have name tags with the names they want to be called and their preferred pronouns. The night’s theme, Reardon’s idea, is “black, white and rainbow all over.” Students are encouraged to wear black-and-white tuxes or dresses with a rainbow accent piece. The attire is a suggestion; students can wear other colors if they like.
The event has appealed to many students with an expected 200 purchasing tickets for the big night. Reardon says she’s thrilled by the turn out.
Next year, the chapter may move the prom date to winter to avoid the influx of semi-formal dances around the spring including the school’s junior prom, senior prom and GLSEN’s gay prom.
The dance isn’t the only accomplishment the Parkville High School Network is proud about. The organization recently was able to eliminate gender color-coded robes for graduation. In the past, boys were required to wear black robes and girls wore gold, the school colors. The chapter was able to change the rule so that all graduating students wear one color.
Cascio says for the most part Parkville High School, a school of about 1,600 students, has been tolerant of LGBT students, but they still run into name and pronoun problems.
“I have had a lot of teachers who say, ‘Well if your mom doesn’t tell me that I have to call you that name or if your mom tells me that I should call you a different name, then I’m going to call you what your mom wants.’ So it is a slight problem with the name,” Cascio says.
Reardon says chapter students want gender-neutral bathrooms. It’s the next issue the organization plans to tackle.
“In the year that we’ve been an active GSA in the school we’ve done a lot creating a space for LGBT students to get connected and know each other and know that, yeah, there are some bad parts of the school. There is always going to be, but there is still a safe space for them to be welcome,” Cascio says.