Eighteen years ago, Tristen Shay and a group of friends founded Alt Prom, an annual event that offers LGBTQ and low-income students the opportunity to enjoy a high school tradition in a safe and affordable way.
In response to expensive ticket prices and a rule against same-sex dates at the traditional prom, Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) at various schools originally planned and funded this inclusive event. However, in 2011, the new superintendent at the time found it inappropriate for GSA money to be used for an event outside of school. The superintendent was also under the wrong impression that Alt Prom was an excuse to have a “rave” and that students attending this event were using drugs and alcohol more than they would at a traditional prom.
According to one coordinator, Chelsea Whitlow, “Students did [and] still don’t feel comfortable [or] safe having it at a high school location since there is bullying and derogatory language happening in the halls and in the classrooms.” Though the bullying is done by fellow students, Whitlow pointed out that it sometimes goes uninterrupted by teachers. Students felt that if they were forced to have Alt Prom at the high school, they wouldn’t be able to keep their traditions, such as handing out condoms, hosting a drag show, and wearing what made them feel comfortable—what the high school saw as cross-dressing at the time.
Thankfully, Whitlow and Shay of Out N About Youth stepped in and kept Alt Prom a staple of the community. Adult mentors help secure insurance and scholarships to pay for Alt Prom, but they primarily support the students as they plan and execute each year’s event.
The entry fee is $5, but attendees have the option to help with set-up or cleanup in return for free admission. There will be food (while it lasts) and a drag show at 8 p.m. Though Alt Prom was created with particular groups in mind, all high school students aged 14 to 18 can attend and enjoy this year’s theme: Neon Glow.
This year’s Alt Prom will be held on Saturday, May 20 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Oddfellow’s Hall. Organizers are currently looking for chaperones. Folks 22 years and older can sign up at www.surveymonkey.com/r/
By Anika Lautenbach