21 Intimate Portraits Challenging the Definition of Prom in America

That bastion of traditional Americana, the high school prom, is changing.

For the past 31 years, The Boston Alliance of Gay and Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) has been holding alternative proms for those who don’t feel comfortable, or who are banned from attending, the typical heteronormative proms. The event has been a highlight of the LGBT youth community in the area and social documentary photographer Zoe Perry-Wood has been capturing the heart-warming moments for the past 7 years, creating an intimate window into the special event.

"This current period represents an important moment in social history," Perry-Wood told Mic. "When a thirty-year tradition continues to play a vital role while the lives of these youth hang in the balance between imminent, broad social acceptance and historical, outright discrimination and oppression. This project is based in the hopeful idea that one day such an event may not be necessary."

Indeed, prom is a rite of passage for many young adults in the United States — but the rite is not always automatic for LGBT students. LGBT youth are consistently discriminated against, if not ouright banned, from their proms. While some of their heterosexual peers' biggest concerns during prom season is convincing their parents to stay out past curfew, LGBT youth have to worry about whether the school will allow their attire, their date, or Lor even just themselves as LGBT youth. 

Perry-Wood's photos highlight Bagley safe space, both for couples and groups of friends. But the point of the event is not to simpy mimic straight dances.

"This is a very different prom in many ways," Perry-Wood told Mic. "This prom is held at Boston City Hall and LGBT youth come from all over the state to attend the prom. Some come from an hour or more away with a large group of students and advisors from Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) in their high schools. Others come from all over New England from CT, ME, NH, and RI." The distance alone shows how far these young adults are willing to go for a few hours of LGBT-inclusive fun.

Hopefully, in the not-so-distant future, this kind of separation will no longer be necessary.  "Proms are meant to be a fun party to celebrate the end of the school year with your peers, and they should be safe for everyone," Perry-Wood said. "At the same time, I think it will be very important for this group of young people to have space for themselves for some time to come. I think we will see how far our society goes in terms of ending this oppression in the next decade or two. Maybe, when these young people have their own children attending Prom, it will be a very different story!” 

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Eliel Cruz

Eliel is a contributor at The Advocate, Religion News Service, and Mic writing on (bi)sexuality, gender, religion, and media. His favorite vegetable is peanut butter.

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