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Queer Prom raises awareness against violence

April 18, 2013

For the first time at UW-River Falls, a Queer Prom was facilitated. Residence Life and the Residence Hall Association (RHA) supported the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) in funding the event.

“The idea behind a queer prom is back in the day when high schools didn’t allow same sex couples go to the prom, community members in the community would put on a queer prom,” said Austen Edman, the current co-chair of GSA.

Before the 1980 Aaron Fricke v. Richard B. Lynch case, it was legal for a high school to tell its students that they could not bring dates of the same sex to their high school prom. As a result, queer proms were created as an alternative to the traditional student proms. In 1980 that changed, but Edman said that some students still feel uncomfortable or discriminated against for being part of the Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender (LGBT) community.
Edman said that the point of hosting this Queer Prom was to educate campus about GSA, to make people feel welcomed on campus and to create a fun, “comfortable atmosphere that shows, hey, this is about you.”

Tracy Gerth, the advisor to RHA, said this is exactly why RHA unanimously voted to sponsor the event.

“It’s an event meant to support every single student here on campus,” she said. “[it creates a] safe space to come and dance and bring the date of your choice.”

Contrary to its history, this event was not organized to create an alternative prom. Edman said he does not feel that any of the local high schools, like River Falls High School and Hudson High School, which had been invited to the event discriminate on sexual orientation.

Instead, the education piece is a key for Edman and for the former co-chair of GSA, Alex Swenson, in creating the event.

“Have fun, educate, be excepting, those are our goals,” Swenson said.

During the well-attended drag shows that GSA hosts twice a year, those who attend are shown a piece of what the LGBT community is like, said Edman. He said it also educates them on how diverse the world around them is.

At the Queer Prom, that diversity experience will be present, but Edman said that other community organizations, like Turning Point Domestic Abuse Shelter, St. Croix Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays (PFLAG), also will be present.

Erin McNiff is the Client Services Coordinator of St. Croix Valley SART. She said even though River Falls is known as a more “country” university, that the community is still educated about differences in sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, she thinks it is good to show “presence and support” to the group because assault does happen.

“Domestic abuse happens amongst homosexual couples just as is does heterosexual couples. People are people,” Edman said. “The same problems that heterosexual couples face, homosexual couples face the same thing.”

“Pairing with them will show that there is a team that’s on their side that will help them if they need it,” Swenson said.

“We don’t have those judgments [on sexuality],” McNiff said. “Anyone can be assaulted so we wont turn anyone away.”

She said she did not think anyone should ever fear that they will be turned away from emergency services if assault happens, but that St. Croix Valley SART was making this partnership visible.

With that said, Edman stressed, “If they want to come and just dance, they can dance. But if they want to learn, then that’s what we’re here for.”

GSA is a campus wide student organization that brings awareness to different causes. Take Back the Night, organized by St. Croix Valley SART, is one example. The You are Loved chalk campaign the group has every year is another. This campaign was started when awareness was brought to the teen suicides as a result of being bullied because of their sexual orientation.

The purpose was to remind students that, “you need to understand that there are people that care about you regardless of who are you are, who you love, or what you identify as,” Swenson said.

“Our mission is to educate campus and just have them be more aware of LGBT issues and how they impact non LGBT community members,” Edman said.

Edman said that these events, including the Queer Prom, try to serve that mission.