Howard County’s school system held its first-ever “Pride Prom” Saturday at the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center in Columbia.
The event was open to all high school students in the LGBTQIA+ community. Students were encouraged to dress in clothing that they found affirming to their gender and were encouraged to visit the Prom Closet Pop-Up if they didn’t have anything to wear.
The Community Allies of Rainbow Youth, or CARY, works within the schools to advocate for a safe and affirming learning environment, raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, increase understanding of youth experiences across the community, and provide resources and support for allies.
Pride Prom wasn’t just for dancing. Students had many other choices for a good time including an Escape Room Challenge, a movie room, a Low-Fi room and a game room. There was also a “cocoa and conversation room,” which was low-lit with offered relaxing vibes with tea, cocoa, and desserts.
“The way that this is organized is amazing because it’s really taking into account all of the different needs of students. Some students need a quieter space, some students need a place. It’s like a cafe. Some students need to be playing games and some students need to be doing a breakout room, having different photo opportunities. It just really is encompassing, like all the personalities of students,” said Sasha Knight, a seventh/eighth grade teacher in the Howard County Public Schools.
Moreover, Pride Prom gave students a space to be themselves while taking part in a teenage milestone, typically reserved for a more mainstream audience. June also happens to be Pride Month.
Tanipa Thomas, a chaperone for Pride Prom, was filled with joy seeing students be themselves.
“The intentionality of just being in this space and seeing students come from all different backgrounds and just accepting who they are as people, it’s amazing,” Thomas said. “Knowing that we’re having this event at the first Black high school in Howard County, this is like one of the first Pride proms in Howard County collaborating and just tying it together. It’s just amazing, and looking at the smiles on all of these kids’ faces just makes you feel like you’re doing the good thing and the good deed.”
The impact of Pride Prom didn’t go unnoticed by students.
“It’s about, you know, having a safe space for not just, you know, straight couples, but also where gay couples and other couples can have fun and party because we all deserve the same experiences,” said prom attendee Josie Wedeking, 15.
Another prom attendee, Sam Ritter, 18, agreed.
“I feel like for Pride Prom, there’s been a very big focus on like we’re all here as a community and the focus is on showing up and looking amazing and being affirmed and having a fun time without needing to do the cliques or the matching outfits or the whatever,” Ritter said.
Ritter continued, “This is a really big step, especially in the community and the environment that we’re living in. So to see everyone come out and see all the transpeople here and all the gender affirming people and all the gender affirming clothes, it’s fantastic. And it’s something I really want to highlight.”
This was the very first Pride Prom, but it won’t be the last. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
“It has been the most incredible feeling to see all of my students feeling comfortable and happy and really coming into their own self and just being able to be around the people that are like them and similar and supportive. I’ve seen some students who have never met each other before, just being supportive of one another in this environment. It’s fills my heart with so much love seeing them being who they are, " said Knight.