Hayward Gay Prom
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The Hayward Gay Prom takes place in Hayward, California, and is a dance held for LGBTQ youth.The attendees of the event consists of LGBTQ youth under the age of 20. The objective of the event is to provide LGBTQ youth with opportunities and experiences without fear of discrimination or harassment. It centered on making LGBTQ youth feel comfortable and accepted. The gay prom was established in 1995 and continues to be an annual event.
The Hayward Gay Prom is one of the oldest continually running gay proms in the United States that has taken place in Hayward, California every year since 1995. The founder of the event is a man named Ken Athey. He worked in the Hayward community counseling adolescents. He founded the event because as a man that identifies as gay, he wanted to create a space for teens to feel safe, and experience the things teens are supposed to experience without being harassed.
Ken Athey's idea of hosting a Gay Prom was supported by Project Eden's Lambda Youth Project. Lambda was founded in 1992 and is devoted to serving the needs of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Questioning youth as well as their families and friends. In 1995 the Lambda Youth Project sought out funding for the dance from the City of Hayward. A city meeting was held and attended by both supporters and protesters. The council granted the Lambda Youth Project with $7,000; however, none of this money was to be spent on the prom. The nonprofit organization relied on various supporting sources to fund the event. Throughout the years the allotted city funding grew. In 2014 Lambda received $30,000 in city funding, $2,00 of which was used for staff time associated with the prom. It was originally held at Centennial Hall, but in recent years the location has changed to Chabot College.
The attendees of the Hayward Gay Prom are students who are ages 20 years old and younger. They gather from all over California and its surrounding states, traveling from as far south as Los Angeles, east to Las Vegas, and north to Santa Rosa. Many LGBTQ organizations attend and conduct outreach and facilitate activities at the prom. Everyone is welcome, and parents are encouraged to attend or volunteer in support of their children. In 2014 the director for Project Eden predicted that more than 300 youth ages 14 to 20 would be attending the prom that year.
The Hayward Gay Prom serves many purposes. Its main objective is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth to be themselves and celebrate with other like-minded individuals. LGBTQ youth are given the opportunity to experience high school activities such as prom in a comfortable setting. They are free to take prom pictures and dance with their partners without fear of being judged or harassed. The prom gives young people an opportunity to explore their feeling and connect with others. It also allows them to form relationships and build their self-esteem. Furthermore, the event offers LGBTQ youth a chance to explore healthy activities, and create events together that celebrate diversity. The Hayward Gay Prom was established to support LGBTQ youth and give them hope and a feeling of acceptance. The director for Project Eden stated "It's a needed event because the young people need a place to go to where they feel safe and accepted".
Over the years the organization and events meaning and purpose have stayed the same. The public's view on the matter seems to be shifting however. When the event started there were many supporters, but there were also many protestors. People in opposition of the Gay Prom sported homophobic signs and wore rubber gloves and masks, which was a common anti-gay protest tactic utilized in the '90s. Local law enforcement and older LGBTQ members had to stand in between protesters and the prom attendees. Attendees were forced to run inside the event, and some kids opted not to attend the prom in order to avoid harassment they experience in school from students and teachers. When the organization changed the location of the prom the number of protesters decreased, and for the first time at the 20th annual Hayward Gay Prom there were zero protesters. The overall acceptance and support for the event and the community was and still is increasing.
Kalee Kennedy, 19 and this year's prom queen, is from Antioch, California: "I believe that gay prom is a wonderful opportunity for those who were previously unable to attend their own prom due to prejudice or fear. Many LGBTQA youth need events like this to remind them that they are not alone and that they will not always be judged."
Zohal Sharif, 19 and this year's other prom queen, is from Union City, California: "Gay Prom offers a safe space for LGBTQIA2-S and allies to experience the full 'prom experience' they were not given in their own high schools. This event is still important because across the country there are couples and individuals facing prejudice and who choose to not even go to their proms. Everyone should have a fun, cheesy prom experience."
Skylar Gordon, 17 is from Milpitas, California: "It means a lot to have a prom—but not only to have a prom but have one that you know is going to be accepting. I really felt like I belonged at gay prom. I've never really fit in at any sort of school-related dance, and I never was really out about anything at a school dance. Here, I could be myself. I could be with my boyfriend, as a pansexual transgender guy, and win cutest couple. That would never happen at a school-related prom, or any dance of any kind." 
Reyna Romero, 17, is from San Leandro, California: "I attended gay prom with my girlfriend and some close friends. I really think gay prom was a blast and I will always remember and cherish that night. Gay prom is not only important because it celebrates these individuals, but because it was great to go to a prom where my girlfriend and I weren't discriminated against. My home school like many others doesn't allow girls to wear tuxes and guys to wear dresses. My girlfriend and I felt really important and loved the whole time we were there." 
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