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Calgary queers reclaim their high school prom experience

Fundraiser is a response to discrimination against queer students in southern US

Queers in Calgary will get a second chance on June 12 to relive their high school prom — but this time around there won’t be gender restrictions.

Queer Prom — the first of its kind in Calgary — is a night to travel back in time and dress the way you wanted to at your prom, says James Demers, co-chair of Miscellaneous Youth Network.

The event is both a fundraiser for Miscellaneous Youth Network and a response to recent incidents of discrimination against queer high school students in the southern United States.

First, there was Constance McMillen whose high school cancelled prom for everyone after she asked to bring her girlfriend as her date.

Then, in Florida, gay high school student Omar Bonilla had to fight with the school administration for permission to attend his prom in a dress and run for prom queen.

“We wanted to do something where it was like, ‘Hey, reclaim your prom’ — this one event that can be really painful for anybody who doesn’t fit into the typical norms of society when they’re 17, which is a lot of pressure,” says Demers.

Megan Gill remembers how uncomfortable her prom night was.

“I’ve been pretty masculine most of my life, right? I was always a tomboy, and my dad hated it,” says the 22-year-old.

When Gill graduated from high school, she wanted to wear a tuxedo to prom, but her mom refused to pay for one. She ended up going in a black, strapless ball gown.

“It was brutal! How do you feel when you’re not wearing something you feel comfortable in? It’s like, if you were to go out somewhere and only be wearing knickers and pasties. It just makes you feel awkward,” she says.

It was the same for Jen Jeans.

She, too, wanted to wear a tuxedo to prom, and, like Gill, her mom wouldn’t let her.

“At the beginning of the year, my mom was like, ‘You must grow your hair out,'” says Jeans.

When her mom stopped paying for her haircuts, Jeans felt like she had no choice but to go to prom like all the other girls.

“So I was stuck with long, curly hair and a big gown,” she says. “And I was uncomfortable all night, and I didn’t get to take who I wanted to take.”

When Jeans goes to prom this weekend, she plans on wearing exactly what she wants.

“I’m going to queer prom in my roller skates!” she says.

Demers says he just wants everyone to have a good time.

“I haven’t talked to a single person who isn’t really excited about it,” he says. “I’d really like them to look back on the night with a sense of satisfaction and fun.”

There’ll be prizes for tackiest couple and tackiest single, prizes for outfits from each decade since the ’70s and a photographer on hand.

“It’s your last big hurrah, your last chance to be a kid and dress up and really enjoy your youth before you have to take on all these responsibilities, and for people who didn’t get to enjoy that, I think they really got cheated,” says Demers. “We’re really encouraging people to treat it like a costume party and really dress up and go all out and just wear the craziest, most ridiculous stuff and have fun.”

Miscellaneous Youth Network invited Constance McMillan to attend Queer Prom, but she isn’t able to make it.

As for Gill, she’s already got her tuxedo picked out.

“The only thing I’m missing is a cummerbund,” she says. “I’ve got cuff links — the whole nine yards — a bowtie, it’s going to be sweet. I’m reclaiming feeling like me in a place that was supposed to be special.”

Queer Prom will be held at Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Association (1320 5th Avenue NW) from 8pm to 2am. Advance tickets are available at Dick and Janes on 17th Ave for $10. Tickets at the door are $15. Must be 18 years or older to attend.