It's prom season. Extravagant promposals go viral on social media. Dresses and tuxes are rented. Anxiety runs high. And for LGBTQ+ kids who may not fit in at a traditional school dance, the ordeal can be even more intense. In Arlington, though, kids have an alternative: Drag Prom.
It looks a lot like your run-of-the-mill teen dance. Some kids gather in awkward, tight dancing circles. Others are off to the side on their phones. But Drag Prom — held at the Arlington senior center, and open to both middle and high schoolers — isn't your everyday school dance.
Drag Prom is where sixth-grader Josh Landau feels comfortable wearing golden heels, a blue dress and a white faux fur coat, reminiscent of a "stylish princess," he said.
"I like makeup and I like a lot of things surrounding drag," he said. "I just thought this is a perfect opportunity to dress up and show my side that I really like to show."
Landau said he hasn't dressed in drag at his school's dances. He didn't even feel welcomed when he went as himself, a bit overdressed for the occasion.
"I did get some weird looks," Landau said. "But people are going to do what they want to do, am I right?"
Kids don't have to dress in drag to come to Drag Prom. For those who want to, but don't feel comfortable leaving the house that way, there's a room at the prom where kids can pick out and change into different clothes.
"There's makeup, shoes, accessories. There's masculine and feminine clothing," said chaperone Katy Kania, who works at the public library in Arlington. "It's mostly for kids that can't leave home dressing the way they would want to. If they feel unsafe either in their family or walking down the street, they can dress up here."
Drag Prom isn't just a place for kids to feel accepted for what they wear; it's also where they can feel comfortable with who they're with.
Eighth-grader Emma Phillips hasn't had good experiences at school dances. At the last one, Phillips — who uses they/them pronouns — said there seemed to be a double standard for LGBTQ+ kids and straight kids. When Phillips tried to hold their girlfriend's hand, chaperones at the school intervened.
"We got split apart," Phillips said. "I pecked her on the forehead and there were chaperones who said, 'All right, break it up, girls.' "
Phillips' friends at Drag Prom recounted the experience, saying straight couples, "were doing way more inappropriate things, like, "making out in the corner."
At Drag Prom, Phillips brought a friend as a date and felt comfortable dancing with them.
While the atmosphere at Drag Prom was jovial, there was a small reminder that beyond the doors of this event, there's a world that's often unkind to these kids.
On a folding table, there's a "Veil of Shame." Kids use fabric pens to write all the hateful things people have said to them: "queerdo," "freak" and "burn in hell."
There's also a "Veil of Joy," where kids write encouraging things people have said to them or nice things they know to be true about themselves — things like "good at math" or "funny" or "kind" or "beautifully perfect."
After the prom, the Veil of Shame is ceremoniously burned. But 12-year-old Josh Landau said the beauty of Drag Prom is that there, he and other kids don't have the task of teaching people to accept them.
"It's not about people being OK with us being LGBTQ. It's a chance for us to be wild, to just have fun," he said. "It's not all about, 'you must understand us.' It's that we just want to have fun, too."
This program aired on May 9, 2019.