Picture this — you’re counting down the days till March 13, 2020 as you and your fellow students make plans to attend the “Once Upon A Queer” Pride Prom. The Great Hall in Memorial Union is booked for the event, and fairy tale decorations and photo booths have already been purchased and are ready to be set up. But two days before the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s biggest queer event of the year, the university announces its transition to online instruction.
All campus events of more than 50 people were canceled, including Pride Prom.
Now, after a two year hiatus, Pride Prom is finally returning to campus. The event is an annual dance hosted by The Pride Society (TPS) where members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies come together to celebrate their identities and express themselves.
“[Pride Prom] allows us to reclaim that idea of going to a dance with people that you love, and just have fun dressing up for a night,” TPS President Diane Camarda said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal.
This year’s Pride Prom will take place on May 7 in Varsity Hall at Union South. The theme remains the same as 2020’s “Once Upon A Queer,” with hopes that the dance will be put on exactly as it was meant to be before the pandemic forced it to a halt.
“It's nice to know that us juniors, sophomores and freshmen will all finally get to experience this for the first time, that all our hard work will come together,” Yasmin Trammell, an executive board member of The Pride Society, told the Cardinal.
Trammell was involved with Pride Prom planning her freshman year. Unfortunately, she did not get to experience the dance due to its cancellation.
“I've heard (Pride Proms) were very big and brought a lot of people together who normally wouldn't be there for TPS meetings,” she said. “That made me excited that I would meet new people.”
Fundamentally, Pride Prom hopes to provide a prom for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Most people only receive exposure to high school proms, where the dance is a very gendered, heteronormative and binary event that places a large emphasis on male-female relationships.
“The main thing we really try to focus on is that it's your prom experience,” Camarda told the Cardinal. “And reclaiming that experience that was taken from us in high school.”
Pride Prom means just as much to TPS as it does to those who attend because putting the event together and being the force behind its message is an empowering act, according to Camarda.
“It’s a really powerful experience to watch. Everyone comes in dressed how they want to dress with the people they want to be with,” they said. “Hearing their feedback afterward, it's why we do it, because of how powerful that response is from the community.”
At the end of the dance, everyone looks forward to the student drag performances. Since 2020, student drag has not been able to exist to the extent that it used to, and few organizations on campus were able to offer events for drag performers to participate in.
In this year’s Pride Prom, professional drag queens are joining student performers for a combined show. Before the performance, a “Drag 101” talk will be given to encourage audience involvement with the show through tipping, applauding or engaging with other dramatic reactions.
“I think it's going to be really good for the drag community here in Madison, and for the people who want to be in a drag community but who just can't because there isn't one,” Camarda said.
As the oldest LGBTQ+ organization on campus, Pride Society serves as a place for individuals looking for community, support or ways to show allyship and activism. TPS’s overall values and intentions are best displayed and practiced at Pride Prom, which also ties the organization closer to the university at large.
TPS was established immediately after the state of Wisconsin passed legislation that made it illegal for state or private businesses to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in doing so, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to pass legislation supporting gay rights. TPS, which held the name “Ten Percent Society” until 2019, was essentially founded in 1983, as soon as it was legally able to exist.
At its core, TPS values activism and inclusivity — and wants to be recognized as a judgment-free community without discrimination or societal bias. These values align similarly with those held by the UW-Madison, as named in the Wisconsin Idea and Wisconsin Experience: empathy, purposeful action, humility, relentless curiosity and intellectual confidence.
“For the humility piece, no one is the ultimate expert on anything. Just because I am the leader of the club doesn't mean that I know everything about the Black queer community, for example,” Camarda said. “We try really hard if we're going to have discussions about identities that we don't hold to bring in someone who does.”
These principles all tie TPS to the heart of the university. Holding meetings to unite LQBTQIA+ community members and their allies is an act of purposeful action and activism within itself, according to Camarda.
“It's important to us that we come together in a non-judgmental manner,” they said. “And I think that's a form of practicing empathy because you have to understand that others are going through things or believe things that you might not, and that can be difficult.”
Additionally, Pride Prom hopes to serve as a space where all are welcome and anyone can be included, have fun and celebrate together in a way that people have not been able to in over two years.
“We're really excited to be able to put Pride Prom on again. There's going to be the usual dancing, food, beautiful decorations and fantastic drag performers,” Camarda said. “We are very excited!”