Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Breathtaking Freedom at the Queertopia Queer Youth Prom

Sparkling prom-goers Kennedy, Rose, Carlos, Layla, Andrea, and Sky

Hundreds of young people in upscale finery surged from BART, Muni, and their parents’ cars toward the San Francisco LGBT Community Center on June 11 for Queertopia, the 2010 Queer Youth Prom put on by the Youth Program at The Center. Teens heading to a prom is not an unusual sight for this time of year, but a second glance revealed that the couples were same sex and holding hands.

The tone for the magical, semi-formal evening was set by the suits and slinky black ensembles sported by the young men and women, and the beautiful, brightly colored satin and silk gowns worn by the young women and one tattooed young man. Two young women came to the party dressed like Lady Gaga, dripping in bling.

It was a series of wonderful, profound moments for the youth who took refuge from their judgmental families, home towns, and high schools to attend the prom. Many were thrilled to meet and greet other queer youth and allies, especially the hopeful singles.

Attendees were spared the ridiculous high school prom night of this journalist, whose date was his fourth cousin, and whose teenage male lover of four years brought a lesbian friend on the double date, who laughed diabolically all evening about the acting awards that she claimed that she deserved for her performance. There was no public same-sex touching, kissing, or dancing in high schools back then, and it was breathtaking to see the contrast at Queertopia, where close contact was blatant and casual. But thousands of LGBT youth in conservative locales still have to set up a charade with opposite-sex dates just to double date with their lovers.

The Center was decorated by interns with traditional balloons and crêpe paper, and an arch was mounted over the staircase with recycled Christmas holly. Young volunteers greeted the guests and requested a $5 donation, and officious-looking Center employees wearing headsets made it clear with their expressions and presence that evil-doers would not be tolerated.

An agitated Sister Mae Joy was the ranking Sister of Perpetual Indulgence to supervise Sisters-in-Training Oy Vey Maria, Shugga Butt, and Mo, who served as chaperones. Then statuesque Sister Roma swept into the soirée with her distinctive boa atop her wimple to command the religious order’s minions and attract admiring glances from the style-deprived partygoers.

The all-male Pandora’s Myth Dance Crew performed at the prom. They were described as a fine queer break dance troupe. Hot Cookie, Harvey’s, and the Hard French event crew provided the refreshments.

The party was well-organized, with the Center’s youth coordinators Beck in charge of the second floor and Erik Martinez managing the first floor. The overall event was managed by community program director Roberto Ordeñana, who described in detail the harsh reality of looming funding cutbacks for the Center’s youth meal project. He is hopeful that San Francisco’s mayor and supervisors will be lobbied to save the resource that not only provides sustenance, but also camaraderie and the feeling that someone cares about LGBT youth. Many queer youth are survivors of severe beatings and harassment as soon as their orientations became noticeable, and for some the food program at the Center is their first awareness that adults and other youth support and accept them for who they are.

A large, distinctive “HIV Testing” sign with an arrow pointed to a room where a smiling Sabeena Shah from Trans Kiss waited, poised with a testing Q-tip. Trans Kiss is a project of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and testing counselor Ses Sultan launched himself to aggressively hand out condoms to the throng.

H&M clothiers provided $100 gift cards for raffle prizes, and guests filled out a survey of questions about youth resources in return for free raffle tickets.

A quick polling of the prom about what the young people want drew this shopping list for the LGBT Center:
  • youth on the board
  • the board to take a personal interest in the youth food program
  • full cyber center staffing
  • wi-fi throughout the building
  • quarterly youth empowerment forums, and
  • re-opening the café.
Throbbing Hip Hop and Top 40 music moved the 300+ attendees in the Center’s Rainbow Room. The intoxicating sight-and-sound phenomenon created a classic American prom.

The LGBT youth exulted in their extravagant freedom — a freedom that someday should be a non-issue across the U.S.

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