Today, for queer-identifying high school seniors, prom can represent an incredibly repressive hurdle in someone's coming-out journey — less "rite of passage" and more just another "night of normativity." What's supposed to be a milestone is instead a stumbling block that further delays self-actualization. Ultimately, this unique challenge facing young people was the impetus that led to the ideation and execution of Queer Prom.
Eugene Lee Yang, a Development Partner and Video Producer at BuzzFeed, sought out to create an inclusive, diverse prom experience, which he documented through a video series, "Queer Prom," where the LGBT+ community was openly celebrated rather than othered. The goal of the initiative was to show viewers around the world who might be struggling with their identity that it's absolutely okay to be queer and, for even just a single night, it's also perfectly normal.
Queer Prom was conceived through a combination of an extensive outreach strategy, a unique opportunity to impact millions worldwide, and the proud diversity of both Eugene's colleagues and audience at BuzzFeed. In preparing and researching for this project, Eugene heard his colleagues cite "scared for my safety" and "lack of queer visibility at my school" as reasons why they didn't attend or feel comfortable at their own proms. His mission with this video series, call to action, and event itself was to fill that void.
On Saturday May 13th 2017 at the BuzzFeed Entertainment Group studio in Hollywood, the inaugural gay prom took place, and on June 8th 2017 "Queer Prom," an all-new-five-part series created by Eugene and his team premiered on YouTube and Facebook, documenting the entire experience through the eyes of eight high school seniors selected from thousands of video submissions to fly to Los Angeles and serve as the official Queer Prom Court. The Queer Prom series allowed viewers to take part in the journey first hand from start to finish, following the seniors as they as they arrived in Los Angeles, got prom makeovers, took part in the official crowning ceremony, and danced the night away.
Beyond the Queer Prom Court, the event reached hundreds of high school seniors from across the country who were invited to participate in the festivities. The Queer Prom team collaborated with local leaders, voices and influencers to come together and curate an evening that represented the beauty and diversity of the community it celebrated. Celebrities including Evan Rachael Wood, who received the honor of Prom Kween, joined the ranks of Adam Lambert, Daniel Franzese, Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying, Perez Hilton, and the Mayor of West Hollywood, Lauren Meister in helping to spread the message of love, acceptance and unity.
Queer Prom tapped into vast BuzzFeed network to collect, share, and reveal important, unheard stories. For Eugene, the series ultimately sought out to prove to the seniors on the Queer Prom Court, and to young people all over the world, that "normal" is relative and produce a point of reference they may not believe exists. The reaction demonstrated in the series by those who participated in Queer Prom is a testament to the initiative's success. Today, more than ever, Queer Prom represents a tool that others can deploy as they rewrite their fear and carve out a new narrative in the form of a fantastic party where LGBT+ youth can have the power to perform as their true selves to the roar of an accepting audience.
Additionally, truth®, one of the most successful and one of the largest national youth tobacco prevention campaigns, partnered with Queer Prom to sponsor the event and series in order to raise awareness about smoking. The LGBT community is among the hardest hit by tobacco, with rates among LGBT young adults double that of their straight peers. And the tobacco industry prioritizes vulnerable communities with aggressive and unfair profiling tactics. With Queer Prom, truth® was able to spotlight inequality issues like this one, as well as empower others to stand up and use their creativity for good.
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