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Friday Night Dance: A Prom for All

General Assembly 2009 Event 3033

Billed as "A Prom for All," this year's Friday night dance at General Assembly (GA) welcomed "all gender identities/expressions/sexual orientations." The GA Planning Committee, organizers of this event, invited GA attendees to "come on your own or bring the date you always wanted to."

A local disc jockey played rock and pop music from the past three decades while dozens of people danced in Grand Ballroom of the Marriot Hotel. Dozens more stood around the dance floor, talking with each other or watching those dancing.

Tim Murphy, a member of the GA Planning Committee, was standing at the door of the ballroom, welcoming people as they went in to the dance. He said the concept behind "A Prom for All" was simple. "The last time GA was in Salt Lake City, back in 1999, we held 'The Prom You Never Had,'" Murphy said. "We reached out and included the local LGBTQ community, and it was a huge success."

The Planning Committee wanted to do something similar at this GA, ten years later, said Murphy. "We switched to a different idea, 'A Prom for All,'" he said. "We wanted something that was more welcoming for all."

So, this year, the Planning Committee invited the local lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community of Salt Lake City to come to the dance, just as the 1999 Planning Committee had done. Tickets were distributed through local LGBTQ organizations. And they invited everyone else, as well.

"There's more than 300 people here right now," said Murphy, when he was interviewed at 11 p.m. "And the dance is only half over." He said that by his estimate, between 20 and 25% of the people at the dance were local people who are not attending GA. "Some GA registrants also reached out to the local community, and invited people to come as their guests," he said.

The Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, minister of the South Valley Unitarian Universalist (UU) Society in Salt Lake City, stopped to talk as he was entering the dance. He said that the Pride Center in Salt Lake City was one of the organizations that distributed tickets to "A Prom for All." The Pride Center, which supports the Utah LGBTQ community and its allies, has been designated as the recipient of the collection at the Sunday morning worship service at GA.

Dennison said that is was especially important that local LGBTQ youth were invited to attend "A Prom for All." "It's important for two reasons," he said. "One, so the youth have a place to be themselves. And two, so that they know that there's a religion that accepts them for who they are."

Carla Gourdin was waiting for her wife outside the door to the ballroom. "My partner and I were married 17 years ago, on 7/11," she said. "We were married by [the Revs.] Barbara and Bill Hamilton-Holway." The Hamilton-Holways were then the ministers at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society. "It was the first [same-sex] union ceremony performed in the South Valley UU building after we purchased it from the Episcopalians," Gourdin said.

She said that both her family and her wife's family were supportive of their marriage. "All of her Jewish family and all of my Mormon family were there, and they celebrated with us." But on the whole there wasn't much support for same-sex couples when they were first married. "What's important about this dance is that it's a celebration of how much things have changed in 17 years," Gourdin said. "Now, we can dance freely, without stricture."

Dani Everton took a break from dancing to talk with a reporter. "I came from an area that had no gay proms, and that didn't allow cross-dressing," he said. Everton lives in New Bedford, MA, and is out as a female-to-male transgender person. "This prom is all about the inherent worth and dignity of all people," he said.

"There's a lot of TG [transgender] people here tonight," he said, "and that's fabulous. I didn't go to any prom in New Bedford because of that issue." He said it would have been impossible for transgender people to be accepted when it was time for him to attend a prom in his home town.

Everton said that "A Prom for All" was having an impact on Unitarian Universalists who were attending General Assembly. Everton, who is one of the worship coordinators for the GA Youth Caucus, said that the dance was raising awareness around trangender issues for those in the Youth Caucus.

"I'm having a superb time," Everton said. "And it's very multi-generational. There are people from all different generations dancing in there." Before he went back to dance some more, he added, "I'm wicked happy about the turnout."

Reported by Dan Harper; edited by Bill Lewis.

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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