When hundreds of LGBT students and their friends party together at the 18th annual Pride Prom this month, it’s not just a rite of passage for young adults, it’s a celebration of a queerer, more just future. To get an inside look, we talked to Clare Nobbs of Supporting Our Youth (SOY), the organization that co-presents Pride Prom along with the Triangle Program, Canada’s only queer classroom.
Who puts together Pride Prom and why is it important?
Back in 2002, the Triangle Program approached SOY and asked us to work with them to make this event spectacular. We’ve collaborated ever since. Plus there are a number of teachers from other schools who are involved who really work to build it. Most important are the youth volunteers, mostly high-school age; they do tons of legwork.
In the last five years Pride Prom has really grown. It’s gone from maybe a 150 in Tallulah’s Cabaret to a full-facility event throughout Buddies in Bad Times with 350-plus youth attending. One year it topped over 400; that was phenomenal. It’s such a wonderful opportunity for queer and trans youth to celebrate. Some dress formal, some dress according to the theme, some come as they are; and they bring their friends. It’s just a really chill night.
Any special moments for you?
When we crown an Ace, King and Queen every year it’s just a spectacular moment. There’s an Ace who’s as important as the King who’s as important as the Queen. Gender doesn’t really matter in all of that, it’s how people self-identify.
The beauty of the contest is the symbolism: It’s not just about the individuals, it’s about the youth who are in the space, who’ve been dancing and partying and enjoying each other’s company, who look at the folks being honoured, who might be dressed completely different than they would at a mainstream prom, being celebrated for who they are. They are not your stereotypical prom king and queen. It’s just a way of doing things differently, outside the box. It’s really lovely.
What is SOY’s core mission?
SOY, which turned 15 in April, works to create space by and for youth. SOY helps queer, trans and questioning youth to take up space and build healthy community with each other and beyond.
Have you’ve seen any shifts in the 10 years you’ve been SOY’s coordinator of community programming?
Youth are starting to be much more vocal about gender, and at a younger age—naming who they are. We as a society need to be able to catch them and allow them to be safe in all of that. That’s why, when community folks ask us what can they do around youth, I like to encourage less gendered language.
I see a lot of people suffering from the violence that comes from the gender binary. So many people feel boxed in. If society had a more fluid awareness and respect for gender, and had less expectation for what gender looks like, then there would be a lot less suffering.
Following Pride Prom is the Fruit Loopz Youth stage at Buddies on the Saturday of Pride Weekend. We need volunteers for that. And SOY is always looking for mentors both for our Monday night drop-ins and one-on-one.