Committee sponsors first prom for gay high-schoolers
By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer
He's 16 and has been nervous about asking someone to be his date.
The Kamehameha Schools junior has good reason to have a big case of the jitters. This isn't just any prom.
Twenty-three years after the nation's first gay prom was held in Boston and the idea spread to dozens of cities, it's finally landed in Hawai'i.
The American Friends Service Committee-Honolulu is sponsoring the state's first gay prom, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," for high schoolers. It will take place from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday, coinciding with National Coming Out Day, at a location that's being kept under wraps because of security concerns.
About 100 teens are expected at the bash that will include dancing to tunes spun by a DJ and the crowning of two prom kings and two prom queens, tiaras and all.
"I think it will help to make homosexuality more accepted here," Kiambao said. "Hopefully, it will give the gay community in Hawai'i a bigger voice."
The idea developed through monthly meetings by a group called The Rainbow Revolutionaries, a branch of the American Friends Service Committee's Gay Liberation program.
"Nobody had really organized youth before," said Robin Nussbaum, the program's coordinator.
But given the chance, about 30 teens representing 10 high schools across O'ahu began getting together to socialize, network and advocate on behalf of gays, lesbians, and transgendered and bisexual teens.
Even Kiambao's best friend, Wendee Augustiro, who is straight, got involved. "I started going to the Rainbow Revolutionary meetings with him," she said. "I just had this feeling that I need to help people. I've always been very open-minded, and I think a lot more people should be like that."
Rainbow Revolutionary members spread the word in their high schools, selling about 100 tickets.
Augustiro, 16, a junior at Kamehameha, will be attending the gay prom, stag. "I think it's important for my friends to have a safe and friendly environment," she said.
A place of their own
A 2001 survey by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, a national organization of educators, found that fewer than half of GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered and Questioning) teens felt comfortable attending a school dance or prom. Only half felt comfortable even discussing gay or lesbian topics at school.
At the same time, high schoolers are "coming out" much earlier than a generation ago, with some studies saying the average age is now 14 to 16, as opposed to 19 to 23.
Proms for gay adults have been around for years, and advocates for gay teens say gay teens deserve the same rites of passage as straight ones. Gay proms for high schoolers grew out of a belief that prom time shouldn't have to be agonizing for gay students. They wanted a place to go where they wouldn't feel like outcasts.
"I went to all the different regular proms, and they were all good times and fun," said Tim Pham, 18, a St. Louis High graduate who now attends Honolulu Community College. "But it wasn't that special prom I wanted. I'm a firm believer in this gay prom because it's that formal event, that special prom that we never had."
The fact that Hawai'i is having its first gay prom is a sign that times are changing, Nussbaum said.
In July, two Kalaheo High School graduates won the Youth Award from the American Civil Liberties Union for starting the first Gay Straight Alliance in a Hawai'i public school, the first in the state to openly refer to sexual orientation in its name.
The Kamehameha Schools followed suit with their own Gay Straight Alliance to promote tolerance, understanding and a safe environment for all teens the same mission now carried about by more than 1,000 schools with such clubs nationwide.
It may have taken Hawai'i a while to catch on to the gay-prom trend.
Nancy Kern, co-chairwoman of the Hawaii Safe Schools Coalition, credits the establishment of the Gay Straight Alliance clubs for raising awareness. Kern, who fought statewide for the passage of a policy protecting gay youths from harassment and discrimination in public schools, said the the policy fight got people talking.
Kern would love to see the day when gay teens are accepted at school proms without being shunned or ridiculed. Until then, "there's a continuing need to specifically develop activities for this group and support them as a separate group," she said.
"We are moving ahead slowly," she said. "But at the same time, we can't forget there are (gay, lesbian, straight and transgendered) students dealing with verbal and physical abuse every day" in Hawai'i schools.
It's just a dance
Clinton Kiambao wasn't sure at first how people at his school would react to the news that he was helping organize the gay prom. Would he be stepping into a hotbed for homophobia?
He's been pleasantly surprised.
"A lot of people I thought would give me problems, they were really cool about it," he said.
More gay teens are out of the closet, and clubs Kiambao is involved in help them to feel less isolated and alone and more likely to seek counseling.
It still hasn't reached the point that Kiambao would walk down the hallway holding hands with a boy, if he had a boyfriend, but he's feeling a little more comfortable being himself.
Part of Kiambao braces himself for critics who might scorn his group for promoting homosexuality.
But that's not his point. He just wants a safe and equal place to get out on the dance floor like any other prom-goer and have fun.
Tanya Bricking writes about relationships for The Advertiser. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8026.