On April 27, the Hugh R. Copeland Center in Norfolk will be transformed in to a magical setting for Hampton Roads’ Fourth Annual Gay-Straight Alliance prom. This year’s theme is “This Is We.” LGBTQ+youth from eighth grade up to age 20 will put on the Ritz, grab their dates’ hand, and enjoy an evening just for them.
Many of them won’t realize that the prom was born out of one student’s desire to create a lasting legacy for her community.
In 2015, Madison Finke, then a Maury High School student, was working on her Girl Scout Gold Award. She was required to devote 100 hours of community service on a project that would last a lifetime. For inspiration, she looked outward to her diverse environment. As a student at both Maury Highand the Governor’s School for the Arts, she noticed differences between the two schools.
“At the Governor’s School, diversity is not only encouraged, but it’s celebrated,” Madison said. “In contrast, I didn’t feel comfortable going to my high school’s prom because I wanted to wear a suit and take my girlfriend. I didn’t feel like I could do that there.”
The idea of a queer prom was not new in 2015. In larger metropolitan areas, they have been a thing for as long as 20 years. But Hampton Roads’ LGBTQ+ students did not have nor did they dare dream they would ever have an event that they could call their own.
Out of such inspiration are great ideas born, and Madison got to work on the first-ever Hampton Roads Gay-Straight Alliance Prom in May, 2016.
Planning that first prom did not come without some challenges and push back. Madison said flyers and posters promoting the Prom were torn down or defaced at Maury. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Much needed support came from the LGBT Life Center, which provided planning assistance and recruited volunteers. Meanwhile, Madison’s mother, Dawn Peters, worked tirelessly through PFLAG, area high school Gay-Straight Alliances, and other connections she had within the broader community.
Finally, in May 2016 at the Norfolk Yacht Club, Madison’s vision and hard work paid off. “Just seeing everyone enjoying themselves while being their true selves was the best feeling I ever had,” she said,
Today, Madison is in her second year at the Hartt School of Music in Connecticut, but the prom goes on. Although she returns each year to lend a hand, the prom has taken on a life of its own. Photographers, DJs, and caterers pitch in their services, while Dawn Peters musters a veritable army of volunteers from the community, PFLAG, and the Life Center.
Many local LGBTQ adults were envious of teens enjoying an experience that many of them didn’t get to have in high school and asked for their own prom. PFLAG is hosting an adult prom themed “If I Could Turn Back Time” on Saturday, June 8th at the Norfolk Masonic Temple. Tickets are $30 per person or $300 for a reserved table of eight that will include two bottles of wine. Proceeds will go towards the establishment of a PFLAG scholarship for local high school graduates.
WANT TO GO?
Fourth Annual Hampton Roads GSA High School Prom
April 27, 2019, 7 – 11 PM
Hugh R. Copeland Center, Norfolk
For those needing prom attire, the YOUth Matter group will have rentals available this Saturday, April 13 at the LGBTQ Life Center in Norfolk starting at 4 PM.