Prom OUT Loud gives youths an opportunity to feel safe being themselves
Spenser Guay, right, plants a kiss on Alex Palermo's temple before heading out to the Gay Straight prom in Manchester Sunday evening, April 27, 2014. Guay was dropping off Palermo's suit at his work before Guay went to set up at the prom. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Spenser Guay, 20, puts on his bow tie as he gets ready for the Gay Straight prom in Manchester Sunday, April 27, 2014 at his boyfriend's house. Guay and Alex Palermo met at Plymouth State University. Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
Should the dance floor at a safe prom for the state’s young gay and lesbian community include balloons?
The 10 volunteers prepping for the second annual statewide Prom OUT Loud wrestled with this question yesterday afternoon at Manchester’s Club 313. By 7 p.m., the dance club would play host to a party for gay, straight, transgender and bisexual kids and their allies.
Balloons are a must, said Spenser Guay, 20, a Concord High School graduate and event coordinator for the state chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. But time was tight. Guay still needed to drive to his home in Franklin, get dressed and return to Manchester. He couldn’t be late for a dance he helped plan – one that gives young people of all sexual orientation a chance to gather and, most importantly, be themselves.
“People can come out and let their identities out,” said Guay, who attends Plymouth State University. “They are able to let aspects of themselves show through with their peers, which is something they probably don’t get to do very often.”
Last year’s safe prom attracted about 100 youths between the ages of 13 and 20 from across the Granite State. Gay and straight couples laughed and danced with cross-dressed and transgender peers, said Heather Oulette-Cygan, co-chairwoman of the state’s GLSEN chapter and an English teacher at Concord High School.
Free to be themselves, the fun came easily.
“When people came to the event last year, everyone completely connected with everyone else, and most of them didn’t know each other before,” Oulette-Cygan said. It was also scheduled to coincide with National Day of Silence on April 11, a day when students take a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing efforts of anti-LGBT harassment in school.
This year, the prom’s theme was classic Hollywood.
Organizers hoped for a bigger draw than last year as they rolled out a faux red carpet, two life-sized Oscar statues and a photo station with a backdrop bearing the famous Hollywood sign.
“It’s a unique location to have a prom event. It has a cool atmosphere to it,” 17-year-old Brenden Hurley said of the club.
Hurley, who is from Hollis, volunteered yesterday to help set up. In preparation for a busy day, he had already shaved and laid out his rainbow suspenders, purple bow tie and a black suit before making the 45-minute drive to Manchester to help. Opportunities like last night’s
prom are still hard to find, he said, and the event helps create connections in the state’s LGBT community. Plus, he just wanted to have fun.
“Usually the LGBT community knows what’s popular before the majority of the population does,” Hurley said. “I think it adds to the allure of the event.”
Hurley, a senior at Hollis-Brookline High School, joined GLSEN in October, but a few years ago, he might not have had that chance.
The national organization was founded in Massachusetts in 1990 with a goal of positive change for gay and straight students. But by 2010, the New Hampshire chapter, a group of educators in the Monadnock area, was still struggling to expand its presence beyond the southwest part of the state. A small team of volunteers, led by Oulette-Cygan and co-Chairman Ryan Richman offered to lead the rebuilding and reorganizing efforts. Paperwork and organization comprised year one, but with a homebase in Concord, GLSEN has set its sights on developing relationships with elementary, middle and high schools in all of New Hampshire’s school districts.
“Obviously, there is some opposition because in our culture it can still be taboo,” Guay said.
More relationships will lead to more events where students can set aside worries about fitting in and focus on having fun.
“The students can put their guard down and be themselves. I think it’s good, especially for some of them who live in less progressive communities,” Richman said.
The inclusiveness of GLSEN mirrors what Guay recalls from his time at Hofstra University on Long Island. He transferred to Plymouth State, excited to return to help create a more inclusive New Hampshire.
“I saw what a city really looks like when it is more accepting to everyone,” Guay said. “We encourage any student who might be feeling down on their luck to be a part of a supportive environment where they can come and be who they want to be.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)