So many young LGBTI people would love to stare into their partner’s eyes, dance with them and feel like they are embraced in that perfect, prom moment.
So, when Durham Region held its eighth annual Pride Prom in Ajax, Ontario on 13 May, many dreams were realised that night. As an end-of-year-celebration for LGBTI youth and allies aged 16-21, Durham Pride Prom is a community project.
For myself, this year was my fourth occasion serving on the event’s planning committee, and as each year passes, I seem to get more and more individuals questioning why such an event is still relevant in 2016.
In an era of many unprecedented triumphs for Canada’s LGBTQ community, some have argued that we are now beyond the need for a Pride Prom, yet despite our tremendous strides forward towards a more inclusive society in recent years, I believe the Pride Prom project is still just as relevant today as ever.
At a casual glance, there are indeed the makings of any typical celebration familiar to this community: drag performances, DJs, dancing, lavish decorations, and some undeniably fabulous outfits.
When you looks deeper beyond the glitz and glamour of the surface, what the youth take away from this evening is something far greater and much more profound.
For those of us such as myself that spend several months planning Pride Prom each year, the event has always been above all else, an evening of empowerment. We can tell our youth that it gets better, and share stories of bright, optimistic futures on the horizon, but this still doesn’t change the painful truth that teenage years are still far from easy, especially for anyone that identifies within the vast LGBTI spectrum. We must do more than simply provide distant hope for a future that can seem like a lifetime away at such a young age.
The host of this year’s event, front man of The Cliks and trans activist Lucas Silveira emphasized this point in his opening speech to the youth in a very candid fashion.
Silveira explained how Pride Prom never existed in the era prior to his transition, and how he never felt comfortable enough at his high school to attend an event such as prom. As the audience of over one hundred listened intently, he stressed the importance of how powerful the collective feeling of belonging was on this occasion.
Pausing for a moment, he then instructed the youth to look around as he said, ‘Take a moment, and breathe this in.’
With a commanding silence filling the hall, Silveira explained truthfully of the undeniable challenges ahead for the youth, but said to always remember this moment of profound belonging, inclusion, and empowerment, which would forever remain with them in memory to assist through whatever they would face on the journey ahead.
While Silveira’s words clearly had an effect on the youth in attendance, it also hit home with many of us that organized the event too. I also never attended prom during my high school years. With the culture of homophobic and transphobic violence that saturated the halls of many high schools such as mine, there was a certain repressive atmosphere that loomed over all of us, which not only created a sense of fear, dread, and shame, but also one that for years stunted our ability to develop, thrive, and grow into our true selves.
I will always recall an occasion a few years back when I had a random encounter with a classmate that I had not seen for 15 years. She was doing well, but then said, ‘It’s funny, we barely spoke to one another back then, but could have been great friends.’
While it was great to reconnect on this occasion, there was also a rather unfortunate sense of irony to learn that many of us unknowingly shared similar experiences, yet existed in an environment that kept us incredibly distant and isolated in the dark from our peers and community.
Though things have definitely improved over the past decade since the era that I grew up in, we still reside in a culture that aggressively pressures our youth to conform to immensely rigid binary of sexuality and gender. Now, as much as ever, we crucially need projects like Pride Prom that actively support and encourage youth to be true to themselves. By our community leaders stepping up to simply show our youth that it’s okay to be yourself, we challenge the attitudes that inhibited our generations, and bring out a sense of inclusivity and empowerment for future generations that was very much absent in mine and the many before it.
As one of the final performers, Tyler Uptight announced his plans be become Canada’s first trans male firefighter, he stressed the importance to always stand tall, be proud, and to never forget that with talent, hard work, and perseverance, the youth will overcome any obstacles ahead to become anything they aspire to be.
Indeed there will be challenges that we all face ahead, but if the experiences of this single evening have managed to inspire, motivate, or lift the attendees spirits in the present moment, even in the most subtle of ways, I believe Durham Pride Prom will definitely have a role in our community for many years to come.
Durham Pride Prom is an annual community project planned with participating members from organizations of Durham Region such as The Youth Centre of Ajax, AIDS Committee of Durham Region, Boys and Girls Club of Durham, Community Development Council Durham, Durham College & UIOT LGBTQ Centre, Pinewood Centre of Lakeridge Health, Durham Regional Police Services, PFLAG Canada – Durham, and community volunteers.