Some of the students from Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School who turned out for New Haven's second annual Pride Prom. McKenzie Belisle Photos.
Lights flashed as drag performers swept onto a makeshift stage at one end of the room. Fringed curtains covered the walls, glinting in the light. Rainbow balloons carpeted the floors as students danced and jumped to the music. In the process, the idea of “prom” got a glitter-covered facelift for the second year in a row.
Last Friday marked New Haven’s second annual Pride Prom, held at United Church on the Green’s intimate Parish House on Temple Street. As over 100 teens headed into the space with partners and friends at their sides, the room filled with traditional prom dresses, clean-cut and funky suits, street clothes, varying levels of makeup and smiles all around.
Kiki Lucia: Attendees are “feeling themselves, being themselves, and just having fun."
Kiki Lucia, a drag queen who described herself as a political and empowering (her alter ego is Pride Center Executive Director Patrick Dunn), said she was especially excited to see so many students from different school districts coming together.
They’re “feeling themselves, being themselves, and just having fun,” she said.
For over three hours, attendees did just that, swinging, shaking and jumping to the music, bouncing balloons back and forth above their heads, and pausing to take photos with Lotta’s Luke and Mistina Hanscomb. They posed in tens of different configurations, trying on different props with their friends while flashing bright smiles.
Throughout the evening, teens also flocked to a staging area in the parish house, screaming as a parade of drag performers took the floor. Several attendees whipped out their phones in one great motion, as performers worked through their routines and videos started rolling.
Rory Roux Heart joined several Connecticut queens for performances Friday.
Lady Gaga's “Pokerface” started playing and out strut Rory Roux Heart, a young AFAB (assigned female at birth) drag performer. She looked over the crowd of young faces as she walked across the stage, her blue dress with silvery, glittering detail shining in the lights.
She held her leg up in a standing split and the crowd went wild. She sashayed across the room and spun in endless circles, skirt swaying to each movement she made.
Attendees cheered, clapped and hollered performance after performance, waving rainbow flags that had been provided by the Pride Center, as well as pink, white and blue flags for trans visibility and pink, purple and blue flags for bisexual visibility brought from home. As the hours passed, both performers and attendees threw their shoes into the middle of the floor, going barefoot as they continued to dance the night away.
“I feel like performing is such an amazing outlet for artistic expression and it’s a lot of fun,” Hart said after her performance. “To see so many young people excited and being themselves is incredible. I just love it!”
Adrenaline pumped through the crowd as members continued to dance, refueled on vegetables, pizza, and mozzarella sticks, and took more pictures with friends new and old. Jayline Hernandez Gomez, a junior at New Haven Academy, was so overjoyed at the sight of an old friend in a light pink lace and doll-like dress that she started to cry tears of joy.
“I hadn’t seen her in years, so it was heartwarming to see her there enjoying herself, being genuinely happy,” she said.
The joy she felt reverberated as Panic at the Disco’s “High Hopes” started to play and the dance floor exploded in a burst of energy. Members of the crowd started jumping up and down, bobbing their heads and singing along.
Had to have high, high hopes for a living Shooting for stars when I couldn’t make a killing Didn’t have a dime but I had a vision Always had high, high hopes
After over three hours, DJ Dark Anjel had reached the last song of the night. As “Bohemian Rhapsody” blasted through the speakers, the voices of sixity kids rose and started screaming along with Freddie Mercury.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide No escape from reality
Open your eyes Look up to the sky and see
Queen continued to pump through a speaker as the crowd’s energy surged on. Students turned pop stars sang to the music, lifting their water bottles to their mouths and singing as if they were their very own personal microphones. The room rumbled with the sound of guitars and drums.
Nothing really matters Anyone can see Nothing really matters Nothing really matters to me Anyway the wind blows
With that, another Pride Prom had ended. Attendees put their shoes back on, collected their photos and headed into the night.
For those like Danny, a Wilbur Cross students who only wished to use his first name, the evening was a unique opportunity to feel completely comfortable in his own skin. He had come to Pride Prom with his boyfriend, and left with some new friends in tow as well.
“At Cross I never felt safe or had a wanting to go to any dance,” he said. “They have three a year. I just don’t like the environment, it’s crowded and hectic and I know I won’t have a good time.”
“But being at Pride Prom, it wasn’t too crowded and everyone was nice and no one was judgemental,” he continued. “I didn’t have to worry about safety or if someone was going to out me at school because people can be mean like that.”
McKenzie Belisle is a junior at New Haven Academy, interning with the Arts Paper for three weeks this May. The New Haven Pride Center is located at 84 Orange St. For opening times and more information, check out itswebsite.