There’s a dash of glitz, a bit of awkward and a whole lot of hype involved in high school graduation celebrations.
But for teens that are still questioning their sexual preference or have not come out as gay, lesbian or transgender, even the thought of a high school dance can be the equivalent pain and anxiety of a root canal.
“Young people who are questioning or identify as gay, lesbian or transgender or queer – they really are at greater risk for some mental health challenges,” One Sky Community Resources executive director Tania Behardien said.
A group of Penticton teens who are part of the Radar group at One Sky wanted to organize an event where they could celebrate high school graduation in a safe environment, among a crowd of supporters.
It’s the first type of event in the Okanagan city.
“The young people spoke for themselves about what was important for them,” Behardien said. “I think it’s important that all youth get to celebrate this time in their lives and these youth were telling us, it may not be the safest place for them or they may not be as comfortable at the general dance for graduation.”
With support from South Okanagan Similkameen Pride (SOS Pride), Pride Prom is being organized for June 1 and will launch Pride month in Penticton.
“I think that the youth really have done themselves a good service by speaking out and creating this event for themselves,” she said.
When the event became part of a discussion on the Penticton Facebook page May 8, some questioned how having Pride Prom is a display of inclusion.
“So not to be rude here but why does the LGBT need a separate prom from the rest of the people?” said Chris Scott. “Is not the point of it to have them accepted into the community and world as JUST regular people?
“Let me be clear I 100 per cent support people doing whatever makes them happy gay/straight etc. I don’t care. but to segregate them with a specific prom just for them (adding to the already done sidewalk crossings and banners) is the wrong image as if you’re putting them up on a pedestal calling them special which will make others hate them.”
The comment generated 71 responses on the conversation thread.
“Chris Scott, do not compare racial segregation to people protecting themselves from being harassed and assaulted,” said Keisha Mclean. “Jim Crow was a direct result of slavery – please stop mistaking the two.”
Steve Nistuk said, “What’s wrong with having one prom? Now every one needs their own prom? Just enjoy the night, it’s going too be the last time you will see the [expletive] from school, before they move on with there lives, too sink or swim.”
Behardien said she understands where comments like this come from and invites the discussion to help broaden the communities perspective on the LGBTQ2 community.
“In our society, when we have really meaningful inclusion it means that people are not just tolerated, they’re embraced and truly included in a meaningful way,” she said. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet. If we were I don’t think these young people would be saying that this would be an important thing for them.”
Until there is understanding of the barriers LBGTQ2 individuals face in our communities, there is still a need for exclusive events like Pride Prom, according to Behardien.
“When we have issues in our community that divide us all, it doesn’t just affect that group: It affects us all. So it’s on everyone to build compassion in the community and make it so that there is a time where we’re only having one event and everyone is included.”
The June 1 Pride Prom is a private event open to graduating teens in the Okanagan who identify as LBGTQ2.
“Your plus one can be LGBTQ2 or straight,” she said. “When you get a ticket you find out the location and attendees must present the signed ticket to get in.”
Contact SOS Pride for tickets. Information can be found on their Facebook page.
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