Prom for most is the punctuation at the end of a chapter, something that young adults dream of for what feels like a lifetime. The endless preparation, the dance moves practiced in a mirror, and of course the much-awaited proposal: “Will you be my date to Prom?” How can one not be charmed by an evening made to feel like the Oscars in your very own gymnasium? For you, perhaps prom is still recounted every time you bump into your old school friends during those visits back home. With all the “great” associated with prom, we seldom think of how, in so many ways, it segregated who you were amongst your peers. While some celebrated, others felt strangers to the event, as they were not allowed to attend as they truly were.
For many LGBT older adults, senior prom wasn’t a time of celebration: for many, it was a time of confusion, of pain, and of hiding who they were in order to fit in. If they went, they couldn’t bring the person they wanted as their date, or dress how they felt was most authentic. Or perhaps they avoided it altogether, seeing it as a heteronormative celebration where they clearly weren’t welcome. Which is why this year, Institute on Aging decided to give them an opportunity to take back their senior prom—and make it their own.
All photos credit Anita Bowen Photography
On Saturday, June 18th, Institute on Aging hosted its very first LGBT senior prom to great success. Around 100 community members—LGBT seniors and allies alike—joined together in support, solidarity, and just plain fun. Billed as “a celebration for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender older adults and allies,” the evening drew elders and friends from all walks of life.
The tone for dress suggested coming as you are; formal wear, casual duds, or drag were all celebrated—the only requirement was unconditional acceptance. People of all ages and persuasions were welcome at the event, though the night clearly belonged to the LGBT seniors. The crowd enjoyed live performances by the Sundance Saloon dancers and an upbeat playlist featuring dance songs from decades past. A photographer was on hand to capture the many magical moments. One of the most memorable points during the evening was a speech given by Karyn Skultety that touchingly reminded everyone why their presence was so important.
These days there are lots of expressions of acceptance and celebration of the LGBT community. But while an LGBT event like this is nowadays nestled among the various nationwide Pride festivals, it wasn’t all that long ago that it would’ve been virtually unthinkable. In her speech, Skultety pointed out that LGBT older adults are the ones who paved the way for younger generations. Without their courage and commitment to making the world a more accepting place, today’s landscape for the LGBT community would look a lot different.
Skultety asked us, “So who are the LGBT Seniors? They are those in this room more advanced than others. Superiors. They are those who have lived through and lead the LGBT community forward. Those who hold the highest and most authoritative position in our movement. Through living. Through fighting. Through loving.” And yet we are unfortunately reminded by tragic current events that we do not yet live in a time where LGBT community members are wholly safe. Younger generations must now follow in the footsteps of the inspiring senior LGBT members, and rise up to push the movement forward.
Sadly, many in the LGBT community have been victims of abuse, bullying, and oppression. Discrimination has prevented many from expressing themselves truthfully in their identity and with whom they love. While we can’t erase those bad memories, we can be proactive about creating new, positive ones. And that’s what the LGBT Senior Prom was really about at its core—making happy memories and celebrating being part of an amazing community who accepts everyone in it just as they are. This inaugural prom is hopefully the first of many more to come: Institute on Aging is making it an annual event, so you and your loved ones can already start looking forward to next year’s celebrations. San Francisco is one of the most accepting places in the world, with an incredibly vibrant LGBT community to boot. The leaders of this movement have fought so hard to make events like this possible, and Institute on Aging is proud to honor them with a prom to finally call their own.
As Skultety concluded in her prom night speech: “So tonight is about putting your lives, your courage, your wisdom and your strength in the spotlight. And as we look to you to lead us forward, we can give you a chance to look back and see things a new way. Tonight is a chance to re-write history—nothing will take away painful memories, but every one of you deserves to add a memory of acceptance too. I hope tonight has been a chance to put a moment of acceptance, of respect and of admiration next to whatever dance you went or didn’t go to. A moment where you felt true to be who you are and know that you are surrounded by people who want nothing less than just that.”
Institute on Aging celebrates the lives of older adults in and around the San Francisco Bay area, and supports them and their family through resources, events, and services. To learn more, please contact us today.