June is Pride Month, and therefore the perfect time for Sonoma County queer high school students to gather for a fairytale-themed prom.
On Saturday, June 11, Sebastopol’s Barlow Market District will be transformed into a mystical, magical, totally inclusive fairytale forest in which queer teens may frolic freely. Presented by the West County High School Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), Positive Images, LGBTQ Connection and the Sonoma County Library, SoCo Queer Prom 2022 is a queer-inclusive, neuro-senstive celebration of authenticity and fun, for those aged 14-18.
The idea manifested at the beginning of the school year in 2021, when Bobbi Rose, a Laguna High School outreach therapist and advisor to the West County District GSA, asked GSA students what their priorities were.
They asked for three things: an LGBTQIA+ education and inclusivity teacher and staff training session, one for Sonoma County parents and a queer prom. Then they set to work to make these goals a reality, both in their weekly meetings and outside of school, including fundraising at the Sebastopol and Occidental farmers markets. The GSA successfully lobbied for and was granted permission to hold their requested trainings—and Soco Queer Prom is the cherry on top of their sundae of initiatives.
It wasn’t easy. In a conversation with Rose last week, I learned just how hard these kids and their supporting allies still have to push, even in 2022, even in West County.
“This is a small minority of the high school population, so having a prom specifically for their community is extremely meaningful,” said Rose. “They don’t feel represented in this school, and they’ve faced a lot of discrimination.”
Rose told me about an instance during Valentine’s Day, in which a GSA student’s Progress Pride flag was found the next day in the urinal.
“Our signs are defaced, torn down. Swastikas are drawn on our flyers. It’s tough,” Rose said.
I was shocked to hear this, but Rose is all too familiar with bigotry and descrimination going on in real-time.
“It’s so easy to think that descrimination isn’t happening, but the stories I could tell you of what kind of descrimination happens in our high school [are] heartbreaking. The issue is that adults who don’t identify as LGBTQIA+ don’t see what I see or hear what I hear on a daily basis, because our queer students don’t feel safe talking to them.” said Rose.
Even the teacher training took months of moving mountains. Originally requested in January, the workshop—a two hour event—wasn’t approved until April, and the students are still pushing for a curriculum reform with more queer history and representation.
The sense of marginalization is what the queer students in West County High’s GSA are done experiencing. Feeling like they have to move in groups to feel safe, feeling afraid to fully express themselves, or attend prom—West County High has already had its official prom—with their partner without backlash… this kind of anxiety pushes people into the margins, where they draw less attention to themselves and run less risk of negative interaction. No high school student, no human in general, should be made to feel that the way they express themselves is cause for hateful retaliation.
To this end, Queer Prom is for queer students, and though Allies will be there—siblings, chaperones and staff—the event is for and about the LGBTQIA+ population.
“For two years, these students, who are already dealing with being different and searching for their identities, have been isolated and unable to connect with each other. This event is a space for them to reconnect in a joyful way without even the thought of hostility, or the cishet [cisgender heteronormative] population inadvertently taking up too much space,” said Rose.
It’s their prom, and it’s going to be a fairytale. Literally.
SoCo Queer Prom includes an entire mystical fairytale forest, a fairytale-themed photobooth and two local DJ’s—DJ Dyops and DJ Reckless. For those with neuro-divergences who find loud music or flashing lights stressful, Sonoma County Library‘s Queer Committee of Librarians are creating an outdoor chill space complete with books, comfy chairs and silent anime films playing.
Positive Images, a local nonprofit that has been throwing queer proms for decades, is beyond excited, according to Jessica Carroll, director of programs.
The partnership with West County GSA, LGBTQ Connection and the Sonoma County Library makes this the biggest queer prom event they’ve ever done. For months, the groups have been planning everything, from funding and donations to volunteers and entertainment. For Carroll, one of the best parts of the process has been visiting West County and other GSAs in person to build excitement and energy in the queer youth.
“We’ve assembled an amazing group of volunteers, many of whom are our friends and families. Everyone is committed to creating a beautiful space for our queer youth to have a truly incredible experience,”Carroll said.
Carroll and many other adults participating know the value of this prom firsthand, as it’s the one they didn’t get in their youth.
“As someone who grew up in Sonoma County and was not able to go to prom with who I truly wanted, being able to give the young people we work with the space and opportunity to be their authentic and beautiful selves at prom is everything.”
Drew Crawford, a program coordinator at Positive Images, wowed me further, quoting the capacity max for SoCo Queer Prom at 400 people.
“We’ve been doing proms for a while, but obviously the pandemic has pushed that. And honestly the mental health of our youth has majorly declined during these last two years—they haven’t had a chance to see themselves as queer people in the world. And this is a chance for them to come together and celebrate each other and themselves. And for those students who don’t feel safe being at a regular prom, this is their place,” Crawford told me.
It’s exceptional to see the outpouring of support for the queer youth of West County, and equally moving to see the courage, fortitude and power of the youth themselves. Though this event wouldn’t be possible without Positive Images, LGBTQ Connection and the Sonoma County Library, it sprang from the hearts and minds of the high schoolers unwilling to miss out on the unparalleled joy of a great party, and unwilling to compromise an inch of their identities to experience that joy. This prom glitters with the mystical, inimitable sparkle that comes when courage, love and authenticity come together. Magic has been made, the spells have been cast and June 11, it’s their fairytale.
The 36th annual Sonoma County Pride Celebration returns to downtown Santa Rosa after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. This year’s theme: We Are Family! It’s about coming back together after way too much time apart, to celebrate each other and have a loving, lovely time.
GayDar Annual Celebrations are back! Come join the reunion for a night of dancing and drag with DJ Ron Reeser and drag host Lola Hernandez and her drag sisters Maria Twampson & Shania Twampson from Reno. This is family! Come prepared to dance the night away.
WIGS AND WAFFLES DRAG BRUNCH
Sunday June 5, 9:30am
Graton Resort and Casino, 288 Golf Course Dr W, Rohnert Park
Sonoma County Pride would like to welcome brunch host & DJ Juanita MORE! and her drag daughters, Rahni Nothingmore, Mary Vice and Sonoma County native Mrs. Princess Panocha, for a syrupy dazzling drag performance at Wigs & Waffles! This is the necessary brunch after a night spent dancing at GayDar.
Join McEvoy Ranch for live music, olive oil tastings and wine at the Ranch Milk Barn, overlooking rolling hills of olive orchards. Enjoy storytelling experiences, with special guests who will be sharing their experiences in the LGBTQ+ community, and share a story at open mic! The theme for the storytelling event is “Out On The Ranch,” celebrating coming out stories.
A portion of proceeds will be donated to Sonoma County Pride, of which McEvoy Ranch is a proud sponsor.