This Fri., May 22, Shoreline Community College will host its first-ever Queer Prom. The event is the brainchild of Project Pride President, student Katie Gelgisser, and welcomes all LGBTQIA-identified people from the campus community and beyond, as well as LGBTQIA allies.
The prom takes place from 7-10 p.m. in the PUB Main Dining Room, and is an all-ages event that’s open to the public and includes catering by Patty Pan Cooperative.
Gelgisser explained that the hope for the Queer Prom is twofold: to raise awareness of and work toward more acceptance toward Project Pride’s presence on campus, and to provide a safe and fun prom experience for students who didn’t feel able to go to their high school proms for fear of discrimination.
“A lot of queer students don’t go to their prom because they don’t feel like they’ll be comfortable going with who they actually want to go with and the experience will be untrue,” said Gelgisser, who didn’t go to her own high school prom. “We want people to be able to experience a prom or dance the way it should be experienced, in an environment in which you can truly be yourself.”
The event is all ages so that current local LGBTQIA high school students can have an experience they can look back on with fondness as well. “There are some LGBTQIA high schoolers right now who are wondering whether they’ll experience discrimination at their own proms or not. We want them to know they’re welcome here.”
Another barrier to typical proms is the cost. “My high school prom was $60 a ticket,” said Gelgisser. “The cost was just as prohibitive as the fear of being unwelcomed.” Shoreline’s Queer Prom costs $5, with tickets sold at the door.
While Project Pride has been a campus club for a few years, its membership and activity level has waned, in part because of the unique challenges LGBTQIA students face.
Club advisor, Shoreline multicultural studies faculty Michelle Kleisath, said that one of those challenges is just having the time to show up to meetings.
“LGBTQIA-identifying students are at a higher risk for homelessness than the average student. Many are kicked out of their homes once their families learn of their orientation, so the student has to work two, three jobs to support themselves and doesn’t have time to devote to a club.”
Another challenge the club faces is attracting enough members comfortable enough to be out on campus. “I think that we currently say our campus is a safe place for people to be out and identified,” said Kleisath, “but we don’t have a center on campus for people to go and get support around queer issues. A lot of people on campus dealing with issues around their identity have to deal with them in solitude.”
Which is why holding a public, celebratory event is so important, according to Kleisath.
“I think it’s really necessary to have community events like this because most of the time when we come together it’s to combat violence against us or address a way in which we’ve been targeted so it’s important to get together to relax and have fun and be ourselves in a safe environment.”
A safe environment is the key. Project Pride has had its club posters defaced on campus several times.
“When I heard about the defacements I was like, ‘really? This is Seattle,’” said Gelgisser. “We’re supposed to be liberal.”
Gelgisser took over the presidency of Project Pride after the most recent poster defacement earlier this year. “I went to an event where all these people I’d never seen before who identified as LGBQTIA showed up and talked about how hurtful the defacing had been to them. People were crying they were so frustrated and saddened.”
Kleisath hopes the Queer Prom is a good step toward changing what she says many perceive as the current unwelcoming climate surrounding LGBQTIA community members on campus.
“Holding a public event like this will raise awareness that there’s a group here on campus and hopefully help pave the way toward creating more acceptance on campus.”
And the event isn’t only for the LGBQTIA community.
“We really want people who want to be allies and support the community to come,” said Kleisath. “We hope straight allies will show up en masse, because that will be a signal that the LGBQTIA community is welcomed on campus. We can’t do it alone.”
Can’t make it to Queer Prom but want to learn how to be an ally? Check out project pride films from Shoreline’s LGBQTIA film festival at the library media reserve including “The New Black,” “Mosquita Ymari,” “Pariah,” and “God Loves Uganda.”