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(Illustration by Kong Thao)

An LGBTQ+ prom hopes to foster an environment of inclusivity

The Fresno State Cross Cultural and Gender Center will host a prom on Friday to provide those in the LGBTQ+ community with an environment in which they can feel comfortable being themselves.

“We’re doing this because there aren’t spaces like this all the time,” said Deyanire Del Toro, the center’s coordinator for gender and LGBTQ+ programs and services.

The LGBTQ+ prom was held for the first time in fall 2016 and was organized by Joury Robles, the graduate student coordinator for LGBTQ+ programs and services for the center. Robles wanted to create a social event for the LGBTQ+ community, since many of the events related to the community that the center organizes are geared toward education.

“We need something that we can go to, but not have an agenda for it,” Robles said.

Del Toro said that, often, those in the LGBTQ+ community experience prom in high school differently than others. At times, they don’t go with a date that is the gender of their preference or wear the clothing they wish – whether due to school policy reasons or worries about harassment.

“Everybody else gets this experience, so why can’t they?” Del Toro said. “That’s what’s unfortunate. They kind of have to hide who they are or deny themselves those experiences.”

At this year’s prom, there will be themed tables for various cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups. This is an effort to promote intersectionality and highlight the presence of the LGBTQ+ community in different cultures.

“A person is not just LGBT. A person is a lot of other identities,” Robles said. “I really want students to be able to celebrate every part of themselves.”

The theme for this year’s prom is “The World Awaits You.” Robles said that she wanted the prom to be themed in a manner that was meaningful and pertinent to the LGBTQ+ community.

This theme refers to the concept that people throughout the world are open to members of the LGBTQ+ community embracing their true selves.

“Due to our political climate, it really felt like people were really starting to hide themselves,” Robles said. “It was really hard for people who belong to the LGBT community to feel comfortable with who they were.”

The prom is open for all people to attend, whether they belong to the LGBTQ+ community or not. Del Toro hopes that those attending recognize the importance of providing safe spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“A lot of times there’s this sensationalization of going to [places like] a gay bar,” Del Toro said. “My hope is that when people come, they can understand that there aren’t a lot of spaces like this open for queer people.”

Del Toro said that safe spaces like the LGBTQ+ prom can feel liberating for some.

“With our LGBTQ+ students, [they] have to think – ‘is that space going to be safe for me? Will people be accepting of my identity?’” Del Toro said. “Having to think about those things on a daily basis can be really exhausting.”

But at the prom, the hope is that they can put those thoughts to rest – at least for the evening.