Students celebrate identity, music, dancing at Queer Prom


Katarina Rothhorn/NW

DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY – NMU students gathered in the atrium of Hedcock to celebrate a queer prom on April 1. For many LGBTQ+ students, this was the first prom they were able to comfortably celebrate in their identity.

Andie Balenger, Staff Writer

When reflecting on her solo appearance at high school prom, Lilith Popour could only associate the event with feelings of sadness. Unaware of her gender identity in the harbored town of Jennison, Michigan, where most people her age were closeted, her attendance did not chalk up to what every high school teen made it out to be. 

“I didn’t know I was trans then and I also didn’t have friends then either,” Popour, second-year environmental science major, said. “I thought I was sad just because I didn’t have friends. So I went alone in a suit and it was really sad and dysphoric.” 

Popour’s experience is far from isolated. Many members of the queer community look back on their high school prom with feelings of animosity, confusion and sadness. In an attempt to reclaim what was taken from them in their teenage years, members of the Queers and Allies student organization were persistent in their requests for a queer-specific prom.

“Many students on campus have had awful experiences with prom in high school,” Miranda Miller, Queers and Allies president, said. “Maybe they weren’t able to be themselves at that prom or have discovered more of themselves now that they’re in college. So this is giving them an opportunity to be themselves a fun dance in a safe, LGBTQ+ space.”

Dance and hip-hop tunes echoed out of C.B. Hedgcock last Friday as Queers and Allies and the Student Equity and Engagement Center teamed up to host their first annual Queer Prom since 2014. The event garnered around 100 attendees, with balloons and party streamers welcoming guests to a night of individuality, socializing and freedom.  

“[Queers and Allies] wanted to create a positive and fun night that people can remember,” Miller said. “Some people didn’t have a prom experience due to COVID, so this is awesome for the people that did graduate and didn’t have a prom at all. It is also awesome for the students that had an opportunity for prom but decided not to go because they didn’t feel comfortable.”

Queer Prom has a long-standing history within the NMU student body, despite the last one being held nearly eight years ago. Queers and Allies started hosting the event in 2013 when Stefani Vargas, founder of Queer and Allies, was asked to host the event in place of Outlook, a student organization that is no longer in existence. While the original goal of Queer Prom has stayed the same in Miller’s revamping of the event, a few aspects have changed.

“It attracted a lot of students then, although it was geared towards the Queers and Allies club at that point,” Miller said. “We are definitely not gearing it just towards our members. It is open to all queer students across campus.”

The atrium on the third floor of Hedgcock was elegantly transformed to welcome attendees, with notes of gold, black and silver being laced throughout the event space’s décor. A rainbow backdrop with “Queer Prom 22” was curated for guests to take photos in front of, along with a variety of baked goods, ranging from cookies to cupcakes.

Through their work as a jumpstart team leader at the SEEC, Harmony Blandin, anthropology major and member of Queers and Allies, coordinated with Miller when planning the event.

“I am really into engagement and working with the community so people can have these kinds of opportunities that they haven’t had before,” Blandin said. “I work so that minority groups can go and do things that they don’t necessarily have the opportunity to do in everyday life or that they have not experienced yet.”

Queer Prom proved to be an introduction to the dance scene for many of those in attendance, including Alex Lucas, a freshman secondary education major. Lucas, who was not out during high school, decided to skip their high school prom altogether. Queer Prom was their first taste of the traditional prom atmosphere. 

“Homecoming or prom back home was more like a popularity contest,” Lucas said. “You come dressed to the nines, even if you are uncomfortable you just stick to whatever gender stereotype you fit.” 

In their first time wearing a suit, Lucas could tell that the energy running throughout the Queer space would make it a night to remember.

“Everyone’s welcome and it’s not really like that in high school. You don’t have to fit into gender stereotypes or just stereotypes in general,” Lucas said. “[Queer Prom] has been very welcoming, very open and very fun. It is probably the most fun I’ve had in a while.”

For those who graduated high school between 2020 and 2021, any hopes for a prom were snatched away by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sophia Gielniak, third-year multimedia production major, falls into this category and was thrilled when her roommates told her that Queers and Allies were hosting a prom-style event for college students.

“I didn’t get to have a prom because of COVID actually,” Gielniak said. “[When I found out] I was excited because I love places where there is music and makeup. It’s very my scene and I am loving it.”

As the event entered its later hours, guests split their time between dancing, taking pictures and socializing with friends, both old and new, throughout the building.

Many attendees are hopeful that Queer Prom will return in the future, expressing their enjoyment in the safe and welcoming space that the queer-specific event provided. For those in the queer community, is important to acknowledge the difference between a straight and a queer prom.

“If society were more inclusive, we could just have [a joint prom]. But there’s an entirely different queer culture, music taste and way of acting. I want to feel comfortable,” Popour said. “Getting the gays together is always fun. I would love [a dance event] every semester honestly.”