LGBTQ+ Prom Opens Up Local Church for Students

In 2015, the Queer Prom took place at The Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, California right after the US Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Obergeffell v. Hodges ruling that same sex marriage is constitutionally protected. Prom-goers Maren Hilliard (left) and Maya Brattkus (right) stand under a "Love Wins" sign. Photo courtesy of Reverend Janet G. McKeithen.

In 2015, the Queer Prom took place at The Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, California right after the US Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Obergeffell v. Hodges ruling that same sex marriage is constitutionally protected. Prom-goers Maren Hilliard (left) and Maya Brattkus (right) stand under a "Love Wins" sign. Photo courtesy of Reverend Janet G. McKeithen.

The first annual Westside LGBTQ+ Prom is taking place this Friday evening, May 18 at the Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica. The interfaith church has held “Queer Proms” in the past, but this year is the first that the prom’s sponsor, Young People Creating Change (YPCC), is partnering with the Princess Project Los Angeles (PPLA), Benefit Cosmetics, and Teen Vogue to produce the event.

“I think it’s important that it be held at a church because most churches, most people, think that God hates gay people, and that’s not true,” says Reverend Janet G. McKeithen of the Church in Ocean Park. “Or they’re going to hell if they’re gay, and that’s not true. So I am the token minister that tells them that, and lets them know they are loved no matter what. And that everybody is born in the image of God, or whatever, but the prom is not religious.”

While the prom’s capacity is 100, attendance for past proms numbered between 25 to 70 LGBTQ+ youth, and YPCC is hoping to change that.

“Last year was the fourth Queer Prom we had, but attendance wasn’t too high,” says Wendy Zaw, Vice-President and Board Member of YPCC. “We started brainstorming and thought, why don’t we partner with Princess Project of Los Angeles and see if we can get more kids to the prom?” Zaw contacted Jeri Devereaux, president of PPLA, with whom she had worked before.

“They asked if would I be willing to work with them to take their existing LGBTQ prom and take it to the next level and reboot it and make it the first annual,” says Devereaux, who felt “humbled and honored” at the opportunity. PPLA provides high school teens in need with formal wear and accessories.

Devereaux is marshaling a team of volunteers and generous vendors to help create a “Storybook Fairytale”-themed prom. The spacious second-floor hall of the Church in Ocean Park will be transformed with large “Once Upon a Time” book arches, helium-filled balloons, and other decorations. A DJ and official photographer will complete the full prom experience.

“We wanted to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth,” Devereaux says. “They’re coming here because they’re not comfortable at their [school’s] prom.”

To preserve the privacy of kids who have not come out to their families or friends, prom-goers will be asked not to take pictures or videos on their cell phones while at the prom. Those who do not wish to be photographed by the official photographer will be issued pink wristbands to wear.

Twenty-one-year-old Santa Monica College student, McKenna Palmer, who came out to her family and friends as a lesbian when she was 17 years old, thinks the LGBTQ+ prom sounds “amazing.” Palmer didn’t go to the regular prom at her high school; she chose instead to attend LGBTQ+ proms at the University of California at Riverside, near her hometown.

“It makes you feel secure to know you are around people like you,” Palmer says. “It’s cool it’s at a church. Lots of LGBTQ+ kids after they come out feel they aren’t going to be accepted at religious places or if their families are religious. To have a church open its doors and say you are welcome and loved – it’s a really important and special thing.”

The LGBTQ+ prom is free and open to LGBTQ+ youths and allies aged 16-24. To attend, prom-goers must obtain tickets at Eventbrite.com. Benefit Cosmetics will be providing free makeup services from 3-6 p.m. by appointment. The prom is from 7-10:30 p.m. For more information, visit the Eventbrite page for the Westside LGBTQ+ Prom.