DJ and event promoter Vicki Cook doesn’t have good memories of her prom. “I went in a long dress, heels, a spray tan, and a Debenhams [a UK department store] makeover,” she remembers. “I spent the entire night feeling so alienated and invisible, which was also how I felt at school. I had no idea who I was at this time and was totally oblivious to the fact I was queer.”
When she started speaking to other LGBTQ people about their proms, she realized that she wasn’t the only one. “Either they didn't go to their prom, or they went, but weren't able to have the experience that they wanted to because of their gender or sexuality.” For many, an experience that should have marked a celebratory end to high school turned into one that made them feel even more isolated and unhappy.
In 2014, she set up Queer Prom with her partner Jules in an attempt to “change the narrative,” as she puts it. The not-for-profit event runs twice a year in Brighton, the LGBTQ capital of the UK, and allows queer people the chance to relive their prom for one joyous, affirming night. Proceeds from the event go towards local LGBTQ organizations, which attendees choose by voting. This year, the main charity recipient is Mermaids, a charity that supports trans and gender-diverse children. It is the only event of its size and kind in the UK, and Cook says the public response has been “heartwarming and mind-blowing.”
Over 500 people attended Queer Prom’s August event during Brighton Pride, with one couple deciding to make their night even more special by getting engaged on the dance floor. It’s all par for course for the night, Cook says, which has been received with delight from the LGBTQ community: “So many people have approached us to say how much they wish their prom could have been like Queer Prom, and that they’re so happy and grateful to have been able to attend such an accepting and embracing prom!”
Attendee Leila Davis told Broadly that she was at Queer Prom with her partner, Fleur Finch, to mark their three-year anniversary. “The first queer prom came at a perfect time, because we had previously discussed how Fleur had never been able to go to prom as her true self and she felt like she always needed to wear dresses to prom to avoid confrontation by conforming to the heteronormative,” Davis said.
“The most empowering aspect was actually being able to attend with my partner Leila and feel completely safe,” Finch said. “I feel so lucky to have had a second chance to such a rite of passage with the woman that I love. I now understand what all the fuss about prom is about.”
Check out photos of the happy couples (both romantic and non-romantic) of this year’s Queer Prom.