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Homosexuals Now Get Their Own Prom

June 6, 2001

BAY SHORE, N.Y. (AP) _ Janet Sosnicki and Rachele Pellegrino hardly touched when they started dancing at Sosnicki’s senior prom last month.

``It was a little uncomfortable,″ recalled the 18-year-old Sosnicki. After all, a lot of the other prom-goers were staring at the only same-sex couple there.

Things will be different Friday when Sosnicki, Pellegrino and an expected 200 other young people attend Pride Gala, Long Island’s first full-fledged gay prom.

Twenty-one years after the nation’s first gay prom was held in Boston, such events are growing increasingly common in large cities and small towns around the country. But Pride Gala has received a flurry of publicity, perhaps because it is taking place on Long Island, prototypical postwar suburbia.

``It’s a great way to let people know that we do exist and everybody’s equal,″ said Jamel Liverman, 15, a sophomore at Bay Shore High School and one of the Long Island prom’s planners.

Sponsored by the group Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth, the prom will take place at a catering hall in picturesque Sayville, about 50 miles from Manhattan.

Sosnicki, a senior at Walter G. O’Connell High School in Copiague, said the prom is designed to provide support for teens who are not yet ``out″ about their sexuality.

Despite the strides made by the gay rights movement, she and other organizers said, gay teen-agers still endure intolerance and harassment.

Liverman, who is slender and soft-spoken, said he was repeatedly attacked during his freshman year. ``I was pushed into lockers,″ he said. ``I was pushed down flights of stairs.″

At the prom, the teen-agers will see displays featuring figures from gay history and from an imagined gay-friendly future, including an openly gay Boy Scout leader and a lesbian president of the United States.

``What we really set out to do was to have an event at which the kids feel special,″ said David Kilmnick, executive director of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth.

During the past few years, proms for gay, lesbian and bisexual young people have taken place in St. Petersburg, Fla., Kansas City, Mo., Cleveland and Dallas, among other locations.

Hayward, Calif., a blue-collar suburb in the San Francisco area, has had a gay prom since 1993. This year’s event at Centennial Hall, a convention center, is planned for Saturday.

Robert Johnson, then a graduating senior at Hayward High, attended the 2000 prom. ``I didn’t go to my senior prom because I was told I couldn’t bring a date of the same sex,″ he said, ``so when I went to the gay prom it was like my prom.″

Johnson, now a 19-year-old student at Heald College, is one of the planners of the 2001 prom and came up with its theme, ``Jungle Romance.″

Sabrina Smith, a high school senior in Gilford, N.H., organized a gay prom in Manchester, N.H., after attending the Boston prom last year.

``I made the fliers,″ said Smith, 18. ``I found a hotel, I found a DJ, I bought all the decorations.″

She publicized the prom through local gay groups _ to avoid attracting anti-gay protesters _ and was rewarded with a turnout of nearly 200 from all over New England.

While most lesbian and gay activists call the emergence of gay proms a positive development, Kevin Jennings, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, sees the glass as half empty.

``It’s bad news in that they need to be organized in the first place,″ Jennings said. ``Why is it that we tolerate the second-class status that gay and lesbian students are consigned to?″

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