Kiki Lucia looked out onto a sea of young faces. 60 pairs of wide eyes looked back. Red leotard. White gogo boots. Big earrings that caught in the light. A rainbow flag turned superhero cape smoothed out around her arms and shoulders.
She extended her arms, the cape billowing out behind her, and slammed one heel to the ground as music bloomed around her. An earring went flying. The audience half-sang, half-screamed along.
This is my fight song Take back my life song Prove I'm alright song
Kiki Lucia was both emcee and one of several performers at New Haven’s revived Pride Prom, held Friday night at United Church on the Green’s Temple Street Parish House. Organized by the New Haven Pride Center, the evening featured acts from the Imperial Sovereign Court of All Connecticut, seething, generation-hopping tunes from DJ Dark Anjel, and a bossed-up photo booth from Lotta Studios. As students danced, shiny rainbow streamers and candy-colored balloons winked out from the walls, transforming the parish house’s sleepy “Great Hall” into a queer wonderland.
The June 1 timing coincided with the beginning of National Pride Month and upcoming 49th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. While September marks most of New Haven’s pride celebrations, NHPC Executive Director Patrick Dunn said it was important to him—and to the center—to hold the event during prom season, at a time when many high school students may still be in the closet or feel unsafe at their own proms. He said that he is excited to bring the celebration back after a four-year hiatus, as the NHPC does more community outreach.
“I think spaces like this are really vital for LGBTQQI2SPAA [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, intersex, pansexual, two-spirit, androgynous, and asexual] people,” Dunn said, shedding Kiki’s persona for a moment as he entered the dressing room. “It’s really important for them to see both that they have compadres at other schools and there’s other people like them out there, because many of these kids might be the only out person in their school.”
But that’s only half of it, Dunn added. Pride proms double as a kind of mentorship opportunity, where adult speakers and performers can talk to teens about the full, out lives that they live.
“They can see adult trans people, drag performers or gender nonconforming people, gay men—and they can see a future that might look really grim on a daily basis to them,” he said. “People they can relate to. The kind of bravery of all of them to come out is just amazing.”
ISC Member Dale McKinzie brings attendees onto the dance floor as he performs Tina Turner's "River Deep—Mountain High."
Teens celebrated those adults, cheering wildly as performers and “royalty” from the Imperial Sovereign Court lined up at the front of the great hall, many sporting crowns and tiaras that marked their status within the organization. As performer Miss Frank lifted the mic, attendees fell silent, phones coming out of pockets to record each word.
“I’m Miss Frank … and when I’m not doing this, I’m a tenured college professor,” they said. Students went wild, bursting into shouts and applause.
“I’m Jonathan Cuebas, and I’m a family therapist … and 20-year military veteran,” added ISC Vice President Jonathan Cuebas. Attendees let out a collective oooooh, and then burst into another round of applause.
Polly Amory and Layne Gianakos, representing Anchor Health
The list continued. Director of a pride center. Licensed case manager for LGBTQ teens in crisis. A retired postal worker. A florist with a thriving business. Kiki and Miss Frank took the mic again.
“So you can be whatever you want to be,” they said in near-unison.
And the adults, in turn, celebrated the students, posing for selfies, chatting about their day jobs and volunteer work for the Imperial Sovereign Court, and helping lead line dances from Tina Turner’s “River Deep—Mountain High” to “Cotton Eyed Joe.”
Around them, students cut loose, expanding their wingspans as they rocked, jumped, swayed and head-bobbed buoyantly. Among them, 17-year-old Julien Spielman floated around the room in shimmery blue two-piece dress, nearly aquatic in the hall’s florescent lighting.
“It’s a big conglomeration of all the queers”
“It’s important that everyone feels safe and able to express who they are,” they said. “Not having to hide it for fear of judgement.”
They recalled a string of middle school years plagued by bullying, as students reacted to their gender nonconformity with verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse. Now, they said, they are grateful to have spaces to be out, and “comfortable with who I am.”
“This is great,” they added. “It’s a big conglomeration of all the queers.”
Back on the dance floor, George Mooney and Zelly Aguilar danced in a circle of teens, bouncing up and down with a propulsive reggaeton beat. Both students at Co-Op High School downtown, the two said they didn’t know each other well until coming to the prom.
Mooney and Aguilar: All human.
Mooney, 16, had come to dance the night away as a proudly-out teen, with rainbow studs in each ear and a matching pocket square. Aguilar, 19, came to support her cousins, who are both newly out. She said the evening marked the first time she’d heard the acronym “LGBTQ,” but she’s already looking forward to using it more often, because “I support them so much.”
“I’m a part of the LGBT community, and I’m proud to be,” Mooney said. “I’m proud to be here with all these fabulous people. Nights like this show the community we’re all human, no matter what gender, what race …”
“We all got the same personality!” Aguilar cut in. “We’re all human! No matter what we are—gay, straight…”
“We’re no different than anyone else!” Mooney chimed in again. “This is amazing and it really brings the community together, and all of us together, just to have a good time.”