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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Profile In Youth: Lily Overacker and Laurell Pallot

Meet the recent high school graduates who organized a virtual prom for LGBTQ2S+ students across Alberta…

By Courtney Hardwick

When schools closed and students were forced to finish off their school years from home because of COVID-19, two Alberta high school seniors, Lily Overacker and Laurell Pallot, saw an opportunity. Together, they organized a digital Pride Prom that gave LGBTQ2S+ students a safe place to interact with each other, meet new people, and celebrate their achievements.

As Overacker and Pallot head to university this fall and start a new chapter in their lives, they hope that LGBTQ2S+ students across Alberta who participated in Pride Prom know that their community will always be there to support them – and feel inspired to host events of their own.

How did you feel when you realized proms and graduation ceremonies wouldn’t be happening because of COVID-19?
Overacker: Mostly, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to celebrate the accomplishment of graduating high school with my friends and extended family. Part of me was also upset that I wouldn’t get to strut around small-town Alberta in my eccentric tux and give it a last hurrah.
Pallot I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit relieved. At the beginning of April when school was cancelled, it was hard to envision what the rest of the school year would look like, let alone graduation. Overall, I would still choose losing grad over having to complete the rest of Grade 12 in person. Still, it’s kind of surreal. I still don’t fully believe I graduated, and I don’t think I will until the first day of post-secondary.

Where did you get the idea for the virtual prom and how did you make it happen?
Overacker: The idea was inspired by an American media company called Jubilee that held an event back in April for 2020 graduates. This got us thinking about a possible virtual prom for Alberta and specifically LGBTQ2S+ students.
Pallot: After we started talking about the initial idea, I reached out to YYC Centre for Sexuality [Calgary] and was directed to email Hilary Mutch, their LGBTQ2S+ community engagement coordinator, and it all went from there. When I reached out, I wasn’t expecting them to say yes, let alone ask if we wanted to be involved in the planning process.
Overacker: We collaborated with many organizations from all over Alberta who work with LGBTQ2S+ youth to create an event that would be open to students from grades 9 to 12. Students who were interested were asked to sign up online, and we sent out more information as plans for the event came together.

Why was it important to you to hold an event specifically for LGBTQ2S+ youth?
Overacker: At this point almost all events for Pride Month – and the rest of the year – had been officially cancelled, which was a huge loss for the whole community. For LGBTQ2S+ students, graduation events can be stressful, especially in small communities like ours where they often stick closely to traditional gender roles. An event specifically for LGBTQ2S+ youth can ease some of the stress and help everyone feel more comfortable presenting themselves authentically.
Pallot: At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of advice for LGBTQ2S+ people focusing on ‘how to survive.’ We really wanted to organize a fun event that would not only be a distraction from the frustrating realities of COVID-19 but would also celebrate the LGBTQ2S+ community and provide a safe space for youth to meet new people.

What went into planning the event?
Overacker: During weekly Zoom meetings with Hilary, we worked through everything from the website, the event signup process and our social media presence, to plans for LGBTQ2S+ youth outreach and how to develop working relationships with organizations across Alberta. We also planned the many Zoom rooms for the event such as chill spaces for people to discuss queer reading and rooms that focused on music and fashion.
Pallot: We knew ensuring the safety of the participants was an essential part of an event like this, so we spent a lot of time on protocols. We had a zero tolerance bullying policy and asked participants to refrain from taking screenshots or sharing the Zoom links. We also disabled private messaging in the Zoom rooms to be sure nothing would happen we weren’t aware of. All of our participants were extremely respectful and we had no issues, which was amazing.
Overacker: We also had our own ‘Pride Prom Court,’ which was inspired by Buzzfeed’s Queer Prom. It allowed us to highlight some of the work done by graduates that has made Alberta’s queer community even brighter!
Pallot: We really wanted to highlight how amazing our Prom Royalty was, so the three people selected as Prom Court Royalty received $100 gift cards to one of our sponsors’ small business.

Are there any moments from the event that were especially memorable?
Overacker: I really enjoyed honouring our Prom Court Royalty members and seeing everyone celebrate them. I couldn’t help but be proud of their contributions and feel hopeful for the continued growth of Alberta’s LGBTQ2S+ community.
Pallot: The event was spectacular, it’s still crazy to think I was a part of the planning process. Overall, it was an unreal experience, but my favourite part was interacting with the room leaders and making connections that will last a lifetime.

What did you learn from the Pride Prom experience?
Overacker: I am incredibly thankful for everyone who helped make this event possible. I hope in the future more LGBTQ2S+ youth are inspired to plan events and bring their own visions to life, since there clearly is a whole community out there ready to help.
Pallot: I think Alberta, especially rural Alberta, has a reputation that makes it difficult for a lot of queer folks to feel comfortable and safe. Although there are a lot of roadblocks for the LGBTQ2S+ community in Alberta, being a part of Pride Prom really showed me that our province is also full of support and that there is a vibrant, queer community here too.

COURTNEY HARDWICK is a Toronto-based freelance writer. Her work has appeared online at AmongMen, Complex Canada, Elle Canada and TheBolde.

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