GUILDFORD — About 120 students attended Surrey’s first-ever “Pride Prom” at Guildford Park Secondary Monday night.
“The prom was amazing,” said Heather Kelley, teacher sponsor of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance club. “It was wonderful and full of such fantastic energy and fun. We will have it again next year.”
The event, which was open to high school students district-wide, was embraced by the community, said Kelley. A GoFundMe page had garnered $1,745 in donations.
“I think teenagers really need to explicitly have a safe place where they can be themselves and they can bring their dates and it’s specifically a space for them,” said Kelley. “There’s been a pretty big social push toward that for the last couple years and Surrey has definitely grabbed the bull by the horns in taking this on.”
Kelley said when people think about the Surrey school district, many think back to 20 years ago when books portraying same-sex parents were banned, but noted the district has come a long way.
“It’s nice to be able to showcase that,” she said. “We have really progressive LGBTQ policy within the district. We’ve moved on. We should be judged by what we’re doing now. So it’s really exciting to be a part of that. I’m a brand new teacher, this is my second year teaching, so it’s been really great to be a part of this.”
Kelley added, “As an out teacher, I think it’s really beautiful and important for these kids to be celebrated. It’s about time they were.”
Councillor Vera LeFranc became Surrey’s first openly gay when she was elected in 2014 and said coming out can be hard, particularly for teens.
Though she’s been out for 25 years, she still has no relationship with her mother as a result of her sexual orientation.
“We still see that now,” she told the Now. “We see many young people end up leaving home because their parents cannot tolerate their sexual orientation.”
She noted 30 per cent of homeless youth are from the LGBTQ community.
“We think we’ve come so far,” she said. “Yet we see these challenges…. And the reality is, it transcends all cultures. Pride is still important. Sometimes we think it’s all good now, everybody’s cool with it, but actually that’s not the case.”
LeFranc is thrilled the district held its first-ever Pride Prom this year.
“I think it’s a great first step,” she said. “I think that it’s really important for young people to be able to celebrate who they are in an open and welcoming way. What I hope eventually happens is that you can integrate directly into the community, that it doesn’t have to be a separate event.”
Meanwhile, Holland Park will again play host to Surrey Pride festivities on Sunday, June 26. Last year, 6,000 people took part in the event.
But new this year is a half-hour parade, considered a “first step” by head of the Surrey Pride Society.
The brief parade, which starts at 11:30 a.m. and ends at noon, will serve as a timely yet coincidental rallying point for those devastated by the killing of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, said Shawn Ewing, third-year president of Surrey Pride Society.
“In light of the shootings, it’s also a way for people to show their support of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community,” Ewing told the Now.
“A parade is something we have thought about doing, and it’s time,” she added. “We knew we needed to get a footprint set down and we are fortunate this year to receive a ($5,000)grant from the city council (to do) a parade.”
Surrey’s inaugural Pride parade will be nothing like the very large one held annually in Vancouver, Ewing emphasized.
“There certainly (won’t be) vehicle traffic because it’s quite a short route,” she said. “I think we’d like to see it develop more into a creative parade, and we like it staying green and not having gas-powered vehicles involved.”
-with files from Tom Zillich