A tall young man in a long black gown stands before the mirror scrutinizing his reflection.
“My goodness,” he says in a voice somewhere between dainty and husky. “My breasts are so low, they could be real.” He adjusts his chest, smoothes his hair and lumbers proudly back to the dance floor atop unforgiving heels.
Across the room, a young man is drawing a crowd by performing tricks with the array of condoms in front of him. With a few artful scissors snips, the stretchy prophylactic becomes a slingshot. He launches a cocktail olive into the heavens. The teenagers cheer.
“Taste the flavored ones,” he urges, and his minions cautiously lick the banana, cola and grape flavored birth control. Some wince at the sugary taste, others laugh and call for water. “Don’t be afraid,” he says. “Just don’t share with your friends, you can pass hepatitis.”
At a table by the dance floor, two young men in button-down shirts are whispering in each others’ ears. They smile and hold hands. Once in a while they kiss and look relieved. They can’t show affection just anywhere.
Welcome to the Queer Prom, the Whitman-Walker Clinic’s kitschy theme dance aimed at promoting unity and wellness in the twentysomething gay community. Saturday night in the Crowne Plaza Ballroom, event planners and volunteers wooed the roughly 70 men and women into health-related activities such as oral HIV testing and condom demonstrations (on bananas) with the music of DJ Kronos and a dance.
Students from throughout the D.C. area attended the event, co-sponsored by WWC, University of Maryland at College Park Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Alliance, GW Pride, Georgetown Pride and Delta Lambda Phi, a gay men’s fraternity, along with other local gay-support organizations.
The event’s promotional slogan, “This time you’ll ask who you really want to dance,” captured another of the evening’s goals: reliving the high school prom as it should have happened in the first place.
“We wanted to give people a chance to have those kind of experiences, which seem so much a part of mainstream heterosexual culture,” says Tom Plummer, coordinator of WWC’s gay men’s wellness programs called G-NET.
“The high school prom is often the first time gay people find themselves shut out of society,” says Lucia Fort, coordinator of WWC’s Lesbian Services, who planned the party with Plummer. “First it’s the prom, then dating, then marriage – we see the narrow heterosexual model society wants us to follow.”
Fort and Plummer say they also wanted to plan the dance as an activity that would foster unity among the young adult gay community, especially outside of a bar setting.
“This is the age when people begin to learn about their community,” Fort says. “The gay bars usually segregate the genders, so we thought it was important to bring them together and begin to build the community that way.”
Party-goers, who remember their own prom experiences with mixed feelings, say they enjoyed the event.
“It’s a great idea,” GW freshman Scott Roberts says. “We have a huge queer prom back home in California, but this one was nice because there weren’t any protesters.”
Roberts says he planned to go to his high school prom with a man even though his school’s establishment didn’t approve of a same-sex date.
“Where I’m from, there were no gay events,” GW freshman Jason Sanchez says. “Here, I felt safe. It was a chance to be myself.”