Annual event at SMU canceled due to rising costs, declining attendance; Adam Lambert fan club contributes supplies for dance at center May 25

TRADITION ENDS FOR NOW  | Participants at a recent Gayla Prom, held at SMU for the last decade.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Youth First Texas will present a spring formal on May 25 in place of the annual Gayla Prom.

YFT board chair Chris-James Cognetta said on a tight five-month planning schedule and a small budget — but with the help of an Adam Lambert fan club — he thinks the spring formal will be a big success.

“We didn’t want to take on the Gayla Prom,” he said, adding that YFT didn’t have money budgeted for it.

Instead of the event that has taken place at the student center at Southern Methodist University for the last decade, YFT will stage a dance at the youth center on Harry Hines Boulevard. Attendance at the SMU event had dwindled recently.

“The youth were given $500 and challenged to raise another $500,” Cognetta said.

Two SMU students are spearheading the event as a project that grew out of their human rights class, Cognetta said.

Members of the Adam Lambert Fan Club from around the country have taken on Youth First Texas as a project and have been supplying the organization with many of its needs at the urging of a local Lambert fan, Rosie Roetto.

“Two years ago I discovered Adam Lambert,” Roetto said.

She said she saw a lot of hate aimed at Lambert because he’s gay.

“It pissed me off,” she said.

Through the Lambert fan club, she became involved with a youth group in Phoenix called 1 in 10, which is similar to YFT.
“I was impressed with them,” Roetto said. “I needed to find a place like that locally.”

Last fall she connected with Cognetta, and this spring she stepped up her advocacy for the group.

Cognetta began an online list of needed items one day when he was out of paper towels. Roetta ran with that and began an Amazon wish list that’s grown to 22 pages.

Roetta blasts links to her large Twitter following when she adds to the list.

“They’ve sent everything from prom decorations, to food to stock the pantry to [where it’s] overflowing,” Cognetta said.

Recently Roetta was at the youth center and noticed ceiling tiles were wet. She added that to the wish list and a box of tiles arrived recently.

“We got office chairs we’ve needed for seven years. We never know what’s going to come in,” Cognetta said.

She said that in two years, the Adam Lambert fans have donated more than $1 million to causes all over, and she hopes to bring more of that to Youth First. For swag bags to be given out at the dance, fans have provided about 300 of Lambert’s new

Trespassing CDs, and Roetta is looking for additional items.

She said one homeless youth needed a dress for the dance and she had one for her. But she didn’t want to donate just one dress.

So she began talking about the dance at Raytheon, where she works.

“Pretty soon I had 12,” she said.

Cognetta said the dance should be a nicely done affair without the pressure or expense of staging it elsewhere.

“The Condon Bleu cooking school will be cooking for the evening,” he said.

The school has provided Friday night dinners for YFT in the past.

The Gayla Prom began as a project of PFLAG and the Walt Whitman School, a school for LGBT students that closed in 2000. After that, YFT and then Resource Center Dallas took over the event, but in recent years, costs have escalated and attendance has declined.

Cece Cox, Resource Center Dallas CEO and executive director, said that when her organization took over the Gayla Prom several years ago, they were asked to stage the event for just one year. But they continued to sponsor it through last year’s dance.

“It’s very labor-intensive,” Cox said. “And attendance had been going down.”
She said that cost of security, props, catering and screening chaperones had all risen, and corporate sponsorship for a one-time event was “hard to find.”

Cognetta thought the spring formal would be a change of pace and if attendance was good, they’d reconsider the full Gayla Prom in the future. He’s been encouraged by calls he’s gotten from teachers and counselors in places like Denton, Mesquite and Garland, as well as from around Dallas.

“Good food,” Cognetta said. “Fire & Ice is the theme. It’s totally free. We have a DJ, laser light show, a snow machine.”


‘Fire and ice’

YFT’s spring formal will be at the center, 3918 Harry Hines Blvd., from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday, May 25. Youth up to 22 can attend. Chaperones over 25 are still needed. The event is free. For more, visit


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 18, 2012.