Gayla Prom returns to SMU for 13th outing with a masquerade ball
The clichÃ© about gay culture is that it’s all about being flamboyant and sexual and campy, often crossing a line of propriety. But anyone expecting the Gayla Prom to be a lurid affair will be disappointed.
The event has a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol. It is heavily chaperoned, and parents are welcome to attend. Two SMU security guards patrol the area to ensure everyone’s safety (protesters are unwanted and not welcome on or near the SMU campus during the event).
And whether in formal attire or something less dressy, the only rule is "anything that should be covered, better be covered," says Adam King, who is coordinating this year’s prom.
The prom, created in 1997, is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. Over the years, PFLAG, Walt Whitman School and GLSEN have been the event’s coordinators. Last year, the Resource Center Dallas took over that responsibility.
"It’s a good fit," says King, who also runs the Resource Center’s Fuse program for young men. "We have the staff with marketing and media experience."
The theme this year is a masquerade ball. Attendees are invited to wear masks and costumes, although many plan to attend in formal wear. For those not wearing their own costumes, 450 masks have been donated.
The idea behind the prom is to give LGBT teens a safe place to experience the rite of passage that is a formal dance.
"High school is difficult enough as it is," King says. "Being gay makes it harder."
He says that some schools are more accepting of LGBT youth than they were when the prom was created. Many allow students to bring a same-sex date, he says, but that’s not necessarily a safe thing to do.
"The Gayla Prom gives the kids a chance to be who they are [and experience] a night they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives," he says.
King wants attendees to know "they have a place where they are safe, supported and secure."
For many, this is the first time to go on a same-sex date or to an LGBT event. Others come in groups, sometimes supported by their straight friends, who are also welcome to attend.
The prom was originally held at the Dallas Grand Hotel. When that hotel closed, the event was invited to move to SMU. This year, it moves across campus from the Hughes-Trigg Student Center to a larger space in the Owens Arts Center.
King says he is puzzled by SMU’s low ranking by Human Rights Campaign on LGBT issues.
"SMU has been awesome," King says. When he contacted HRC about this, they explained that the rankings were based on surveys completed by students. But, he repeats, "The faculty and staff is wonderful. They have been fabulous."
Dan Butler, the openly gay actor who portrayed Bulldog on the TV show "Frasier," was a guest at an early Gayla Prom. He talked to students with tears in his eyes most of the night and talked about how he wished there was something like this when he was in school. That may alone make it a night to remember — whether for students or those well beyond high school.
Gay Bingo’s Something Fabulous co-directors Jenna Skye and Patti le Plae Safe host and emcee this year’s Gayla Prom. Open to anyone ages 14 to 22. Owens Arts Center on the SMU campus, 6101 Bishop Blvd. June 6, 7 p.m.-midnight. $20. 214-528-0144.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 5, 2009.