The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Prom, a high school pastime full of dancing, done-up looks and beloved memories with friends, just got more inclusive for San Mateo County which saw its first annual Pride Prom held Friday Night.
“We’re really excited about the event. It’s an opportunity for kids to come together to celebrate their true selves and to have a really fun opportunity to do that in a safe and welcoming environment,” said Randall Booker, superintendent of the San Mateo Union High School District. “A lot of organizations came together to put this on for kids, to give them a safe space to really be themselves.”
High school students of all sexualities and gender identities from across the county were welcomed to the dance at the College of San Mateo’s College Center. As of the Thursday before, more than 250 students had registered.
Jenny Walter, chair and founder of CoastPride, an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other gender and sexually nonconforming residents on the county’s coast, said the event was a larger version of a similar Pride Prom officials put on at the Pride Center in San Mateo in 2018. Dr. Holly Wade, an equity warrior for CoastPride and director of Educational Support Services for the San Mateo Union High School District, helped plan that earlier event and is credited with helping propel plans for this year’s version.
“She was a big impetus in making it happen countywide this year. I was grateful when she contact me because [the Pride Prom] is really, really invaluable for our young people who are LGBTQ during a hard time and transition in your life when you’re finding your way,” Walter said. “[Students] can show up with their significant other in a way that feels safe and no one’s looking at you weirdly or you don’t feel you can’t do it because you’re not out with school or family. It’s a really special time.”
CoastPride partnered with the San Mateo Union High School District and the San Mateo County Community College District to put on Friday’s Pride Prom. Months of planning went into the free event, Booker said. Partners also included the San Mateo County Office of Education, LGBTQ Commission and San Mateo Pride Center.
Unlike other proms, the Pride Prom did not feature a royal court which Booker said didn’t align with the point of the event. Instead, students were encouraged to “just be you” by attending in whatever outfit felt best and with a friend or solo. DJ Steve-O would be spinning hits from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and food and drinks would be provided.
The night was meant to be one of inclusivity for the county’s LGBTQ youth, some who may struggle to attend other proms as their full selves or may not yet be out to their families or school community, said Walter. Booker noted students will have the option to wear wristbands indicating they’re not interested in being photographed or filmed and other security measures will be in place to keep the students safe.
A Pride Prom is also meant to show students they’re appreciated, regardless of their sexual or gender identity, particularly now as anti-LGBTQ legislation grows in numbers across the nation, Booker and Walter said.
“It feels like a barrage. I’m one of those older folks who are not as plugged into social media, but when you think about kids today living in a world where they’re seeing so much divisiveness, so many attacks on liberties and rights, that affects their health and well-being. They can’t help but feel it’s directed personally at them and that makes growing up right now a really rough time even though we’re in the Bay Area and things may be more progressive. That’s why we’ve always focused on having more visibility nights for communities,” Walter said.
Dr. Jennifer Taylor-Mendoza, president of the College of San Mateo and a CoastPride boardmember, said the institution was excited to collaborate with the high school district and CoastPride and emphasized the importance of social justice, inclusion and antiracism as core values for the college.
The college in May will be hosting the California Community College LGBTQ+ Summit and is in the process of creating its first Pride Center, she added.
“The College of San Mateo continues to advocate for and include LGBTQ+ people in our equity and justice efforts. We want to make sure that our prospective students know that the College is a supportive and welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ Community, and we are growing our support programs and efforts,” said Taylor-Mendoza in an email statement. “Our LGBTQ+ students, employees, and community members add to the beautiful and diverse makeup of our college community, and we are committed to continuous advocacy, collaboration and inclusion.”
LGBTQ visibility is also growing on the coastside, Walter said. While planning for Pacifica’s second Pride event is in full swing, so is planning on the first Half Moon Bay Pride. A third coastside Pride event will also be hosted in Pescadero.
Booker said he also welcomes donations that will go toward putting on next year’s Pride Prom. Donations can be made by contacting his office at (650) 558-2299
“I want our kids to go ‘Oh my gosh, this is why I love living here, this is why I love my community,’” Booker said. “It’s important that kids feel confident and comfortable and loved up on in their community. We’re a school district first, so this has implications for teaching and learning. We know that if kids don’t feel supported they don’t do well.”