Officers of the University of the Arts (UArts) Queer, Trans and Non-Binary Club held the school’s first queer prom on Friday, April 22, 2022. About 200 LGBTQ+ students, some of whom came from other schools, danced to a curated playlist of songs and enjoyed queer comraderie.
“People were really, really excited for the event,” said Katie Szykman, co-president of the club. “It was just really nice to see the community gathering like that. I feel like we haven’t really had the opportunity to bring the LGBTQ community together, and we did that.”
UArts held online classes only for the 2020-2021 school year, so prom also gave students a chance to reconnect in person.
Szykman planned the event with the club’s co-president, Gi DiMatteo, as well as its three other officers, Isa Payne, Ariana Padilla and Stevie Reynolds. “Having this club really just lets you meet people who you usually wouldn’t,” DiMatteo said. “And we all get along so well.”
Szykman initially got the idea for queer prom in a dream, she said. When she bounced the idea off of DiMatteo as the two were getting the club off the ground in the fall of 2021, they were all in.
“I love getting dressed up dancing, but I didn’t have the best prom experience in high school,” DiMatteo said. “I think Katie could also very much relate to that. Doing events like this, it just lets people know we are here; and it makes people who are closeted or really uncomfortable with themselves realize it is okay to be this way and you should be super proud of it.”
The prom included a sexual health information table run by staffers from Mazzoni Center. Community Affairs Manager Tatyana Woodard, who worked the table with three of her colleagues, said that students were very engaged and that some of them made appointments at the center’s youth drop-in clinic, which has a relatively short waitlist.
“It was so good to see queer students in their element,” Woodard said. “The different outfits were very expressive, affirming. A lot of us don’t get a chance to actually go to prom just because sometimes there’s anxiety around being with other classmates; some students might get teased or bullied. Spaces like this are really important because it’s affirming, it eliminates the anxiety and is a space where you’re able to wear what you want to wear to prom, go with who you want to go with to prom.”
Other prom amenities included a photo booth with supplies donated by Blick Art Materials, a quiet space for people who don’t like loud music, and raffles that included prizes ranging from acupuncture sessions, a piece by local crochet artist Lace In The Moon, and a gift certificate to Philly AIDS Thrift.
“When UArts emailed [us] asking for support by donating to their raffle, we were thrilled,” said Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou, co-founder and manager of Philly AIDS Thrift. “Immediately it took me back to growing up in Reading in the mid ‘80s, thinking about how my friends and I were a group of queer teen punks and artists who wanted nothing to do with our prom. School wasn’t always the safest of spaces. It makes me happy to support folks who are creating these fun inclusive spaces and fully living life!”
Prom attendees who weren’t fully out and didn’t want to be photographed received a pink wristband upon checking into the event. “We just wanted everyone to feel really safe,” Szykman said.
In true subversion of gender norms, instead of having a prom king and queen, Szykman and DiMatteo crowned prom monarchs. Using a sign-up sheet and a random generator, six people were selected as contenders who then walked and danced in front of the crowd. Attendees then voted on the two people they thought should win. When the winners were announced, one of them approached DiMatteo and Szykman saying that they “felt so much gender euphoria.”
Going forward, Szykman and DiMatteo have more plans for the Queer, Trans and Non-Binary Club, including potentially participating in Philly’s National Coming Out Day celebration. They’ve also floated the idea of volunteering for community organizations to help foster safe, inclusive spaces for LGBTQ youth.
“It’s really important to see visible, queer people everywhere,” Szykman said. “I taught over the summer, and I had a little rainbow pin. Then I had three campers come out to me and it was their first time coming out to anyone. I think it’s really important to have that.”