After a senior at the private, all-girls Incarnate Word High School was turned away from prom in April for bringing a female “date,” mixed reactions – mostly anger and disappointment – rippled through the community. The Incarnate Word student didn’t bring her female friend as a romantic date, instead just as a friend, she said, but the response was seen by many as discriminatory against the LGBTQ community.
The team at La Botánica, a local bar and vegan food restaurant, caught wind of the incident from one of their employees, an Incarnate Word junior, Mia Stahl.
“Why don’t we throw them a prom here?,” Rebel Mariposa, La Botánica chef and co-owner, recalled asking her team. By “them” she meant local high schoolers who identify as LGBTQIA: lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual.
(Style note: Mariposa and many others use the extended acronym LGBTQIA, the Rivard Report’s style book calls for LGBTQ.)
“(Prom) is a rite of passage, it’s a ceremony. We need those kinds of things in our lives … and to deny that to a young adult and say ‘I’m sorry, because you identify this way or don’t identify this way then you’re not allowed’ is cruel,” Mariposa said.
The prom was held on Friday night at La Botánica. The eatery announced the event over social media a few weeks in advance, and even conducted a survey on Twitter to determine the theme of the evening. “Purple Rain,” inspired by the late pop icon Prince, came out on top.
By 9:30 p.m., an intimate group of high schoolers dressed in semi-formal attire were celebrating the occasion on the dance floor. Throughout the venue, the typical prom activities were available – a photo booth, snacks, and mocktails to enjoy. The evening may not have been as packed as a typical high school prom, but that didn’t matter to those who showed up.
“This is all about being able to be yourself and being comfortable in your own skin, that’s really important to me not because it’s a personal issue but because I’ve seen people struggle with it,” Stahl said. “(It’s critical) to be able to have a community where you can love and be loved and have fun regardless of whatever that is.”
The legalization of same sex marriage in the U.S. last June was a huge step towards equality for the LGBTQ community, but they still face discrimination every day. The most extreme example comes out of North Carolina, where transgender citizens’ access to the basic human need of a bathroom is under attack.
Jordan, a junior at Earl C. Warren High School who identifies as bisexual, said he has experienced discriminatory attitudes against the LGBTQ community.
He can’t “be as open about (being bisexual) as I want to be. There are people who will actively make fun of me, so I just kind of keep it to myself,” he told The Rivard Report during the festivities. “It’s good to be here with people who support me, who have similar interests. When you go out, it can be kind of threatening, but this is the least threatening place I’ve ever been.”
The La Botánica team encouraged freedom of expression at the event including a gender non-conforming dress code, something that Mariposa said has gotten many students scolded or turned away by members of administration at school dances.
Mariposa and her colleagues, she said, wanted to create an environment of inclusivity through the LGBTQIA Prom. She sees prom, an event that some find trivial, as much more than a high school dance.
“It’s a celebration that you’ve come this far in the academic world of your life, and a lot of kids, especially those in the LGBTQIA community and those of color, have a harder time of graduating and getting to those points in life and in school,” she said. “So they deserve to celebrate that.”
Later in the night, the bar and restaurant opened up to the public for a “Prom After Party,” where numerous high school graduates – some of which were excluded from their own proms years ago – gathered to celebrate the night of fun they missed out on as teenagers.
Besides providing “a safe and supportive environment that also affirms who (LGBTQIA youth) are,” Mariposa hopes the alternative prom will also start a community-wide discussion.
Top image: Prom attendees and chaperones gather in the outdoor patio at La Botánica. Photo by Scott Ball.