The small group of teens looked like any other group that would have gathered in the local coffee house for a lazy cold Saturday afternoon. But they were there on a mission.
They are trying to put together a statewide LBGTA friendly prom in Lansing.
“Even in the most tolerant school, it’s a game of Russian Roulette if you bring a same-sex partner to the prom, unless it’s a joke,” says Robert VanKirk, the 17-year-old president of the Holt High School GSA, and the chair of the new coalition called the LBGT Community Coalition of Michigan.
“But it’s not a joke, it’s a reality,” says Holly Gibson, 17-year-old chair of the Haslett High School GSA.
VanKirk says the project began when he was joking with friends about having an LBGTA prom. He visited the Gay Lesbian Straight Educators Network website, and soon his joke was a mission.
Since then the group has interfaced with other mid-Michigan GSA’s from Mason, East Lansing, Haslett, Holt, and Okemos as well as GLSEN and the Queer Zone in Ypsilanti. They have also sought advice from Triangle Foundation.
The youth plan to hold the prom on June 16 from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing. The event will cost $15 per person, and is open to any LBGTA friendly youth ages 15-25. The event is drug, alcohol and tobacco free. The theme of the prom will be Carnival in Oz. The ballroom can hold 500 people.
The Lansing Center is an entertainment and showcase facility owned by the city of Lansing which also has ballrooms. The group has reserved one of those ballrooms for the event – and committed to a pretty penny in rental costs.
Debbie Harding, a CPA in Lansing and the adult advisor for the organization, says the group needs to raise about $3,800 to pull the event off.
“We are working out bus routes,” says Cyrus Ghara, a 17-year-old member of the East Lansing High School GSA. The youth want to provide transportation from around the state to the location.
“This is going to be a tolerant, accepting environment,” says VanKirk. “No one is going to whisper fag or tell you, you don’t belong there.”
Each of the youth have stories of the lack of tolerance in their schools. From violent verbal outbursts accusing the youth of spreading their “fag stuff,” to a student government president telling one GSA president that she did not “approve” of his lifestyle.
The group is seeking donations; although it has not received its formal federal tax exempt status it has been recognized as a no-profit corporation by the State of Michigan. But they are also asking for assistance in planning and putting together this event, and others.
“We want to make the world gay for more than just one day a year,” Van Kirk says. “So no one feels alone.”