Erin Petersen

UW-Waukesha hosts first annual Pride Prom

By - Apr 30th, 2011 01:06 pm
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It’s been a significant year in the ongoing LGBT rights movement in the U.S. In the face of government opposition, and a startling rash of bullying and teen suicides, the grassroots effort to spread a message of tolerance and equality has grown ever stronger. Hundreds of thousands rallied behind the “It Gets Better Project” to give struggling LGBT youth hope for the future — that a world of acceptance and love does indeed exist outside of a potentially suppressive home/town/school.

Last year, a young lesbian student in Fulton, Mississippi wanted to take her girlfriend to the senior prom. The school refused to allow it, and even threated to cancel the prom if the couple showed up. Within days, the story of Constance McMillan was viral on Facebook and her case was backed by the ACLU.

It was a combination of these events that inspired the Pride Alliance of UW-Waukesha to hold the first annual Pride Prom, happening tonight on the UW-W campus.

“It’s a rite of passge to be able to participate in your own prom,” says Rhiannon Campell, co-president of the Pride Alliance. Other members of the recently-formed UW-W Pride Alliance — the student and faculty-run organization formed two years ago in response to a campus climate survey —  say they organized this inaugural prom in response to some of the issues facing queer teens, but also to create an event that was open to anyone who felt they missed out on their own “night to remember.”

“One of the things we recognized is that we want [the prom] to be open to anyone who really didn’t feel welcome at their prom,” says Vice President Emma Burgmeister.

“So, maybe you had a baby [in high school] and you couldn’t get child care on the night of the prom…or maybe you’re part of an interracial couple, and where you’re from that’s taboo,” says Campbell, with teacher and co-advisor Tim Thering adding, “[the prom] is open to people from every walk of life.”

The Pride Prom is open to UW-Waukesha students and area high school seniors, as well as parents, teachers and allies. Dates and formal attire are not required, but guests are encouraged to have fun with their outfits to suit the “Masquerade” theme of the evening. From the event’s Facebook posting: “gender bending, breaking, parodying and exploding is heartily encouraged (but by no means required). However you dress, be fierce and rock it!”

Like most proms and school dances, the Pride Prom will be chaperoned by UW-W faculty and staff, and is a non-alcoholic, non-smoking event. Thering playfully says this first event will be held in the campus cafeteria area, but hopefully next year they will have enough people to move the party into the gym.

While the prom itself is a relaxed, open event, it is a significant one — especially given its location.

“This is Waukesha…,” says Burgmeister. “It’s a conservative county, and so a prom like this is a big step…I know it’s a step in the right direction.”

Pride Prom: Masquerade takes place from 6-10 p.m. on the UW-Waukesha campus (in the Hub), located at 1500 N. University Dr., Waukesha. Entry is free for UW-W students/staff and $5 for all other attendees, and includes dancing, refreshments, and professional photographs.

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