Students say they feel more comfortable to be themselves at San Mateo Union HSD’s Pride Proms.
Students: You can be yourself at school’s Pride Prom
June 10, 2024
The following article was written by Holly Wade.
“PRIDE prom is really special and one of a kind!” — Student attendee, Pride Prom ‘24.
As leaders and champions of diversity, inclusion and the holistic welfare of every student in our schools, we must prioritize the design of safe, inviting and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ youth through our deliberate actions. Over the past two years, San Mateo County school districts have organized annual Pride Proms, celebrating students’ diverse identities alongside their peers, allies and community members.
The research underscores the importance of creating accepting communities and LGBTQ+-affirming spaces for young people. Efforts to create these environments in school communities can foster better mental health and reduce the risk of suicide. The Pride Prom aligns with this research, offering a supportive place for LGBTQ+ youth to express themselves and thrive.
One student expressed, “While I attend my school’s dances, Pride Prom is special to me because it has been able to give a space that is immediately welcoming and accepting for those attending. I love going to Pride Prom because the vibes are always great and no matter what, I feel accepted and incredibly happy, which isn’t always guaranteed with other school dances. Oftentimes, when going to a school dance, I find myself feeling a bit out of place and find it difficult to really enjoy myself, even though I love dancing and parties. At Pride Prom, I always have fun and enjoy myself, and I leave feeling a lot of joy and pride in my identity and in the local queer community. While regular school dances are fine, they don’t offer the same amount of pride and acceptance as Pride Prom. I also love that Pride Prom has no dress code other than to be yourself — both times I’ve gone, everyone looked amazing in their own unique way, and no two people looked the same. That nonconformity and diversity in people’s dress is really special because it feels like everyone is stunning in their own unique way, and they don’t have to wear what everyone else is wearing to look great and have a fun time. I love Pride Prom, and especially with my struggles with mental health, it was a really significant and uplifting event that I value deeply.”
Teens grappling with gender identity, sexuality, and non-binary or transgender identities face a myriad of challenges in high schools today, often navigating a landscape that may lack understanding, acceptance and support. Some of the struggles they may encounter include:
  1. Lack of understanding and acceptance: Many high school environments lack comprehensive education and awareness regarding diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, leading to misunderstanding and discrimination from peers and educators.
  2. Bullying and harassment: LGBTQ+ teens often face bullying and harassment based on their identity, which can have serious detrimental effects on their mental health and academic performance.
  3. Limited access to resources and support: Access to supportive resources such as LGBTQ+ student groups or counseling services may be limited, leaving teens feeling isolated and without guidance.
  4. Navigating restrooms and locker rooms: Transgender and non-binary students may feel uncomfortable using school facilities due to a lack of clear policies or accommodations to support them.
  5. Legal and policy barriers: Discriminatory policies or laws in some regions may worsen the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ teens in schools.
  6. Family rejection and homelessness: Some LGBTQ+ teens face rejection or lack of acceptance from their families, which can lead to homelessness or unsafe living situations.
  7. Mental health concerns: Discrimination and social isolation can take a toll on the mental health of LGBTQ+ teens, with disproportionately high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among this population.
It is important to recognize the resilience and strength of LGBTQ+ teens who continue to navigate high school with courage and determination. By fostering inclusive and affirming environments, providing access to resources and support, and advocating for policy changes that protect the rights of all students, we can work towards creating safer and more welcoming schools for everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
“It’s a lot more freeing to have an event specifically targeting queer people — not only does it create an inclusive space ... it shows that the district cares.”
Pride Prom attendee
One Pride Prom attendee shared, “To me personally, having pride alternatives to regular high school events feels more comfortable, whereas only having the regular events to attend feels kind of awkward and isolating. Pride Prom was like something special to celebrate ourselves and being around people who are the same as us and have similar experiences to us; being able to have fun and not worry about judgment.”
It takes a village to do the right work for all of the students, what I like to call our “collective work” and measured justice. It is important to recognize that school leaders must embrace this challenge and create environments where all students can thrive.
As society becomes more accepting, LGBTQ+ youth are coming out at younger ages. The Pride Prom reflects this positive trend, providing an opportunity for young people to embrace their identities and lead integrated lives.
The remarkable success of these events is greatly owed to the support, endorsement and sponsorship from various entities including the San Mateo Union High School District, San Mateo County Office of Education, community members, and organizations like the Pride Center, Coast Pride and College of San Mateo. Special recognition is due to the District Board of Trustees, and San Mateo Union High School District Superintendent Randall Booker and San Mateo County Office of Education Superintendent Nancy Magee, as well as the collaborative efforts of vendors, volunteers, sponsors and donors.
This event would not be possible without our donor support. Because of these generous individuals and organizations in our community, we fully fund the event and all students attend at no cost. This year our engaged community raised over $20,000.
The final word, a student expressed:
“It’s a lot more freeing to have an event specifically targeting queer people — not only does it create an inclusive space (which was a lot more fun than regular dances, actually), it shows that the district cares. Having a reserved space/time truly was just wonderful.”
Holly Wade is director of Educational Support Services in San Mateo Union High School District.