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Teens feel 'free' at Pride for Youth LGBTQ prom in Bellmore

Lounging around at the "Alice in Wonderland"-themed Pride

Lounging around at the "Alice in Wonderland"-themed Pride for Youth prom in Bellmore on Aug. 9, 2014 are, from left, Sam C., Danny Petersen and Casey Donnelly. Credit: Jennifer A. Uihlein

Sam C. partied like any self-respecting “Queen of Hearts” should at an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed prom.

She held court.

Sam was ready for a photographer’s lens only after laying dramatically on a couch -- sprawled on top of friends Danny Petersen and Casey Donnelly -- simultaneously showing off red-and-black striped tights and a fearless nature. Not long before, she had helped lead the charge for a “Cotton-Eyed Joe” dance-floor hootenanny.

Her tiara-topped costume notwithstanding, she credits Bellmore’s Pride for Youth for a real-life transformation.

“This place has become my second home,” the once-reserved young woman said during her third LGBTQ prom last Saturday night. She later added, “No words can say how they’ve helped me with my life situations.”

Pride for Youth assistant director Tawni Engel said the prom has been held on-and-off since the ‘90s, and in recent years has taken place on-site at Pride for Youth, part of the Long Island Crisis Center. On one of the doors leading to her office, a stop sign-shaped placard reads, “SAFE ZONE I am an ally.”

“As much as we’ve seen it [LGBTQ acceptance] in the bigger picture, in some of their communities that’s often not the case,” Engel, 39, said of the attendees.

Even for high schoolers who have come out, Engel explains the idea of taking a date to the prom can bring a whole new level of pressure, and that a prom specifically for LGBTQ youth lets teens “feel free to be themselves.”  

Prom-goers could hang out at the bar -- stocked with beverages with “Drink Me” affixed to fit the “Alice in Wonderland” theme -- or watch the movie in a nearby room.

Kyle Clarke said the atmosphere was “amazing,” and showed off his comfort level with his creative use of party favors.

“Where else can you go wear three hats on your head,” he joked, “and people laugh with you?”    

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