SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:
It's prom season, a time of excitement and anxiety for teenagers. That's especially true for LGBTQ kids, who may feel like they don't quite fit in. But for students in one Massachusetts town, there's an alternative event. Quincy Walters of member station WBUR takes us to Drag Prom.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK")
RIHANNA: (Singing) Work, work, work, work, work, work. You see me. I be work, work. work, work, work, work. You see me...
QUINCY WALTERS, BYLINE: Kids gather in awkward dance circles. Others are off to the side on their phones - a familiar scene. But Drag Prom isn't your run-of-the-mill school dance. It's not held at a school at all. The public library in Arlington, Mass., puts it on at the local senior center. Drag Prom is for high-schoolers and middle-schoolers. And it's where sixth-grader Josh Landau says he feels comfortable wearing golden heels, a blue dress and a white, faux fur coat.
JOSH LANDAU: I like makeup. And I like a lot of things surrounding drag, so I just thought, this is a perfect opportunity for me to dress up, show my side that I really like to show. So that's why I'm here.
WALTERS: And how would you describe your style?
LANDAU: How would I describe it? That's a tough question, see. I would describe it as this stylish, like, princess.
WALTERS: Kids don't have to dress in drag. But for those who do want to and don't feel comfortable leaving the house that way, there's a room available to change into different clothes.
KATY KANIA: There's makeup, shoes, accessories. There's masculine and feminine clothing.
LANDAU: That's chaperone Katy Kania, who works at the public library in Arlington.
KANIA: It's mostly for kids that, like, can't leave home dressing the way they would want to. If they feel, you know, unsafe either in their family or walking down the street, they can dress up here.
LANDAU: Drag Prom isn't just a space accepting kids for what they wear. It's also where kids can feel at ease about who they bring. Eighth-grader Emma Phillips hasn't had good experiences at school dances. At the last one, Phillips, who uses they/them pronouns, says there seemed to be a double standard for LGBTQ kids and straight kids. Phillips and friend Ruth Hyry-Weintraub remember when Phillips tried to hold their girlfriend's hand, and teachers intervened.
EMILY PHILLIPS: We got split apart. I, like, pecked her on the forehead. And we - their chaperones had said, all right. Break it up, girls.
RUTH HYRY-WEINTRAUB: And wasn't it, like - other people were doing way more inappropriate things?
PHILLIPS: Oh, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yeah.
HYRY-WEINTRAUB: And they looked the other way when, like, straight people doing were this, so...
PHILLIPS: People were making out in the corner.
WALTERS: At Drag Prom, Phillips brought a friend as a date and felt comfortable dancing with them.
WALTERS: While the atmosphere of Drag Prom is jovial, there's a small reminder that beyond the doors of this dance, there's a world that's often unkind to these kids. On a folding table against the wall, there's a veil called the veil of shame. On it, kids write all the bad things people have said to them - queer-do (ph), freak, burn in hell. But 12-year-old Landau says the beauty of Drag Prom is he and other kids don't have the task of teaching people to accept them.
LANDAU: It's not about people being OK with us being LGBTQ. It's a chance for us to be wild, just have fun. It's not all about, you know, you must understand us. It's that we just want to have fun too.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAME LOVE")
MARY LAMBERT: (Singing) I can't change even if I tried.
WALTERS: In addition to the veil of shame, there's the veil of joy where the Drag Prom attendees write nice things they know to be true about themselves, things like good at math or funny or kind or beautifully perfect.
For NPR News, I'm Quincy Walters.
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