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The past 10 years have seen tremendous growth and outreach to queer youth

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Edmonton’s Queer Prom is the prom you wished you had gone to as a teen.

The prom started modestly, about 10 years ago, as a project of the Pride Centre’s Youth Understanding Youth program. Its beginnings were so modest, in fact, that the first prom was held in the party room of an apartment building. Since then, the event has grown astronomically: in 2014, 700 youth showed up to a venue that could only fit 500. Never ones to shy away from a challenge, the organizers threw together impromptu drag shows in the parking lot to entertain the people who couldn’t get in. Subsequent years have required youth to register for tickets in advance, but the ethos of the prom remains the same: the event should be free and accessible to all teens.

The organizing committee takes that mandate of accessibility quite seriously. Tickets are free of charge, and the space is completely physically accessible. The washrooms are designated as “all bodies.” There’s a chill-out space in case you need to get away from the noise and the bustle for a while. There are volunteers around to do hair and makeup. There’s even food.

“A teen’s job is to show up someplace, and our job is to make sure this is a night they will remember,” explains Kristy Harcourt, a member of the organizing committee.

The Queer Prom is queerness at its most expansive.

“When people hear ‘queer prom’ they often think of same-gender couples getting to dance together,” Harcourt says. “Certainly that happens, but the prom is about more than that. People can express who they are in terms of their gender expression and what makes them feel right and special.”

Accordingly, the dress code is “fabulous.” But it’s not just queer kids who are invited: all teens that feel out of place or are marginalized are welcome. The committee works hard to ensure that youth who might not feel welcome, do: they reach out to homeless youth and let child welfare workers know that every teen on their list is welcome to come.

Many of those same child welfare workers are on hand during the night, along with representatives from a wide range of local agencies. Agencies are given booth space and stern instructions to “do something fun.” And do they ever: members of affirming faith communities bake over 500 cupcakes and host a cupcake decorating station. Other agencies bring carnival games or entertainment. The point is less for teens to gain knowledge of these agencies than it is for teens to have a good experience with organizations that might be vital to their lives.

“We don’t want young people to have a sense of scarcity; we want them to have a sense of abundance,” Harcourt explains. “That school, families and adults in their lives can be supportive, and that a bunch of adults really want to throw them a party.”

In order to keep the event free, the organizing committee is turning to the wider community for support. They have set up a FundRazr page (fundrazr.com/campaigns/b16q85): each level is named after feedback they have received from youth. “I kissed my girlfriend” is the most popular so far. They welcome donations of any size but are also asking for good wishes for the attendees: you can post a wish on the crowdfunding site and it will be displayed during the prom.V

Fri, May 6
Ages 19 and under only
Tickets at pridecentreofedmonton.org

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