Queer youth connect in Corona for Pride Prom as tradition continues to flourish

Dozens of teens attended Pride Prom at the New York Hall of Science on June 14.
Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Around 100 Queer teens, some coming from as far as Westchester and Brooklyn, filled up the New York Hall of Science in Corona last Friday for an annual “Pride Prom” celebration. 

The event, geared towards  LGBTQIA+ youth aged 14-20, was organized by Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz in partnership with Queens Borough President Donovan Richards and close to a dozen sponsors. Now in its fourth year, the annual event is giving young people an alternative space free from tradition and formalities at conventional proms. 

Some of the youth arrived in floor-length gowns and button-down shirts, while others dressed more laid-back with baggy cargos and a T-shirt. That is exactly the space the organizers wanted to create—one where the youth feel comfortable dressing and presenting themselves how they see fit. 

Many of the attendees arrived with their own friends, but took the chance to connect with others part of the community. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The event was initially started over a decade ago by then Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who geared the Pride Prom towards queer adults. She considered those who were not able to attend their high school prom as their authentic selves, or missed out on the experience completely. 

When the event first started, Cruz served as Ferreras’ chief of staff and recalled attending the inaugural event. But when Cruz was elected to the State Assembly in 2018 to represent Jackson Heights, Corona and Elmhurst, she said she knew she had to bring back the event – this time for the youth. 

Over the years Pride Prom has only grown. Both in the number of attendees and the number of organizations tabling outside the main party to share resources and promote events. This year there were even Sephora representatives doing makeup touch ups and spritzing perfume, while long-standing LGBTQ groups shared where they could find mental, physical and sexual health resources. 

The young attendees had fun posing for photos with props. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

“It’s really important to have events like this because a lot of people aren’t able to come out, especially to their peers,” said Gabby Abrazaldo, a peer outreach specialist at APICHA Community Health Center, who had a table set up at the prom. “Queer youth need to know there’s other people out there who share similar experiences.”

In between letting the youth know about the resources and social events her organization offers, she shared that when she was in high school, she did not get to go to her own prom. It meant a lot to see queer youth like herself connect in the safety of the space. 

“Yes, it’s amazing to have fun and throw a party, but for me, it is basically to get this information into the hands of these young kids,” said Cruz at the event. “We have resources that we think are going to target different points in their lives, the serious ones, the fun ones, in case something goes really right or really wrong.”

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz was proud to share that the event continues to grow each year. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Melanie Dulfo, the director of community health education at APICHA, noted that in their health surveys, members of the LGBTQ community rank mental health as one of their top concerns. The issue, already at an increased rate among all youth, is exacerbated by isolation and social stigma. 

Dulfo praised social events like Pride Prom as crucial for fostering a sense of community and connectedness that decreases feelings of isolation. She noted that when it comes to recruiting youth for their programming, social media might go a long way, but in-person events are critical for true community engagement. 

The attendees explored tables set up by Queens based community organizations. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

In terms of what one queer and transgender educator who had a table set up covered with gender-affirming books and friendship bracelet-making station was hoping to get out of the event: “trans and queer joy.”

“It’s about making a space for kids that we didn’t have when we were little,” said Alaina Daniels, co-founder and executive director of Trans formative Schools. “Little 17-year-old me would have been too scared to show up here in a dress.”

Alaina Daniels tables at queer youth events in all five borough to spread the work about their organization, Trans formative Schools. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

Throughout the prom, the youth had the chance to pose for photos, dance and get their makeup done, all while solidifying their community with new friends. 

“I’m going to continue to do it as long as I’m in office,” added Assemblymember Cruz. “Our sponsors are very generous and are very supportive of what we do. And they understand that a space like this is key to keeping these kids safe.”