Anyone who thought prom night was exclusive to high schoolers should make their way to the NOTO Arts District tonight.
Local advocacy and support groups Topeka Pride and Beacon Youth Group are taking over NOTO’s Serendipity for their annual Pride Prom.
Topeka Pride president Nicole Nesmith says both groups exist to support and give a voice to members of the LGBT community. Proceeds from Pride Prom are used to support the non-profit groups, but the dance is more than just a fundraiser.
“This is more of a celebration, said Nesmith. “We don’t typically expect to make a lot of money; it’s just a way for people to get out, celebrate and have a good time.”
The all-inclusive event is open to everyone, regardless of age and lifestyle.
“A lot of people think prom is just for kids, but this is for the entire community,” said Nesmith. “You don’t have to be LGBT to come. We have straight couples that come to celebrate their love because – well, love is love.”
Looking back at the previous three years Topeka Pride has held the event, Nesmith has seen couples who never had the chance to share the prom night experience together.
“The first year that we did this, there was a couple – I want to say they were probably in their 60s – they were all dressed up and it was so sweet. They just sat there at a table holding hands and got up a few times to dance,” said Nesmith. “This is also a way for people to look back and remember their youth and celebrate who they are as a couple.”
The spirit of Pride Prom echoes that of Topeka Pride in that it offers a safe place for people to be true to themselves and secure in their identity.
“We just want to empower the LGBT community and marginalized people, to let everyone know that, no matter who you are, who you love or how you identify, you’re a valuable member of this community,” said Nesmith. “You have a voice and you should celebrate it. We want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and welcome here in Topeka.”
In addition to her role with Topeka Pride, Nesmith is the adult facilitator of Beacon Youth Group, a support group for those aged 12 – 20 who are discovering their identity as they approach adulthood.
Nesmith says Beacon is similar to Topeka Pride, but operates with its own mission and means of support.
“The difference is that Beacon is more what we call in the social work field a psycho-social educational group,” said Nesmith. “They offer support to each other and discuss a lot of different issues. Kids in this age group are questioning or not quite sure how they identify. The interesting thing that I’m seeing with kids these days is that they don’t even necessarily feel they need a label. They don’t necessarily identify as gay, straight or bi or whatever; they just feel comfortable knowing that they somehow fit in somewhere.”
Nesmith says they are seeing an increase in a non-binary identity among today’s youth, not because it’s a fad, but because they finally have the words to explain who they are.
“It’s more of a fluid thing where they identify between masculine and feminine; not necessarily as one or the other. They’re using more neutral pronouns and we’ve seen a huge increase in that over the last few years.”
Tonight’s Pride Prom gives those kids a chance to embrace that emerging culture in a safe and controlled environment.
Nesmith says minors in attendance will be closely monitored and she has yet to see any issues stem from previous all-ages events. She adds anyone under 16 is asked to bring an adult chaperone.
The theme of the night is “Fact or Fiction” and attendees are encouraged to dress as any fictional character or historical figure.
Pride Prom kicks off at 8 p.m. at Serendipity, 820 N Kansas Ave.