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Inside the Trans Youth Prom in Washington D.C.

Fortesa Latifi

May 24, 2023

Michael wore a blue, tulle-draped gown with a long train (their inspiration was the MET Gala, which they hope to attend one day) and performed the song Warrior by Demi Lovato. He danced with his friends and let themselves soak in an experience they didn’t think they’d ever get to have: going to prom.

At the nation’s capitol on Monday night, trans youth organizers threw the Trans Youth Prom, bringing together attendees from 16 states. According to a press release, the Prom had several high-profile supporters and donors like Elliot Page and Ariana Grande and attendees were between the ages of 5 and 20. The Prom came during a year which has seen more anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced than ever before and was billed as a “celebratory manifestation of trans people’s beautiful, expansive communities, and their right to thrive.”

If their only option was their high school’s prom, Michael, 15, wouldn’t go – they don’t feel like they fit in amongst their peers and are often bullied (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows LGBTQ youth are more likely to be bullied than straight cisgender youth). But at Trans Youth Prom, Michael felt free to be himself, extravagance and all. Their dress was a reflection of their personality and they were excited to see what the other attendees would wear. “At my school, I wouldn’t wear the dress,” Michael said. “So I’m really grateful for this whole experience. I think people need to see that we’re just regular kids… and we deserve equal rights.” During his performance, he planned to channel all the doubts people have thrown at him and use it as a moment to prove himself. The song choice was also intentional, with Michael looking for a song that was about fighting back and standing up. The lyrics read now I’m a warrior, now I’ve got thicker skin, I’m a warrior, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been which felt apt for a celebration taking place in spite of the attacks on the trans community.

Hobbes, 16, organized The Prom along with other trans youth. The Prom was a chance to focus on the joy of trans people rather than the relentless onslaught of bills and laws targeting the community, he said. He finally got to meet other organizers who he had connected with online and had dinner with the other organizers and their families the night before the main event. Hobbes went shopping with his family to pick out his outfit and started at the bottom, with his socks. He chose a pair of blue socks with pink spots on them which lead him to a blue suit with pink flowers. As one of the speakers at the event, he was nervous but he focused on his goal: for other trans attendees “to embrace their identity and feel loved and feel joy. The best part for me was definitely when we marched to the steps of the Supreme Court. At the reflecting pond, where prom was held, there were a lot of people. [It] gave me hope for the future of our community and our rights.”

The event featured speeches by transgender activists Chase Strangio and Raquel Willis and members of the Trans Youth Prom Steering Committee, including Libby Gonzales, 13. She chose her outfit carefully: a black tiered dress with big sleeves, necklaces with protective crystals, and black platform sneakers. She also donned lots of rings and bracelets and the necklace featuring her birthstone and initials that she got when she legally changed her name. Libby lives in Texas, a state which is leading the country alongside Florida when it comes to anti-transgender legislation. “Kids like me are constantly talked about as if we don’t have agency,” Libby said. “A bunch of adults are always making decisions about our lives and we want to speak for ourselves.” That’s one of the reasons it felt so important for the Trans Youth Prom to be youth-led, Libby says, and though it was a lot of work to plan the prom alongside normal activities like school but it was helpful to have a positive event to focus on during what Libby calls a “soul-crushing legislative session. LGBTQ people… don’t have a sense of belonging in proms so we wanted to recreate prom [as] a safe space where everyone belongs.”

She loved dancing and singing in front of the Capitol and chanting alongside other attendees and allies. “It felt so powerful walking with my friends, younger kids and so many adults all from across the country who have been in this fight for so long paving the way for us,” she said. “I will be holding on to that feeling forever.”

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