Prom: Samohi GSA members unbox decorations for the upcoming Queer Prom. Courtesy photos

On Friday, the Annenberg Beach House will transform into an enchanted forest prepared to host a magical masquerade ball bringing LGBTQ+ youth together from across the Westside.

The event, known as Queer Prom, has been running in Santa Monica for 10 years and is organized by Samohi’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance. This summer’s iteration promises to be extra special both due to the increased importance of community for queer youth emerging from a year of isolation and its sheer scale.

“It’s going be a wonderful chance for all of our queer youth, especially those who have been stuck at home and, potentially in unsupportive homes, to connect with one another and be in a community with people who support and understand them,” said Roger Gawne, Co-President of the Samohi GSA.

Gawne said he was blown away with the level of interest and community support for this year’s Queer Prom, which is themed Enchanted Forest Masquerade Ball.

Traditionally the event is hosted at the Church in Ocean Park for around 60 youths, however over 170 attendees have RSVPed to the now sold-out free event, which will take place at Annenberg Beach House and feature a live DJ, photographer and Prom royalty ceremony.

This feat was made possible by the sponsorship of the City, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, Annenberg Beach House, Back on the Beach Cafe, as well as the longstanding support of the Church in Ocean Park.

The Church in Ocean Park’s Minister, Janet Gollery McKeithen, is an ardent advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. She fought fiercely against Prop 8 and broke with the Union Methodist Church’s rules by officiating same sex marriages.

McKeithen believes Queer Prom is much more than a night out and can have transformative effects on the lives of queer youth.

“I believe the Queer Prom saves lives. It’s important and life-giving for people to be themselves,” said McKeithen. “When we pressure young people to fit our mold of who they ought to be, it is damaging to their mental health and to us as a society. LGBTQIA+ students need to know that who they are right now is amazing. They need to be affirmed, not condemned.”

For a lot of students this will be the first time that they have been able to celebrate in a predominantly queer space since the pandemic began. The Samohi GSA has invited youth from similar organizations in regional schools and churches and hopes these connections will continue to grow after the event.

“Being LGBTQ+ can be really isolating because it sort of happens randomly to different people and it can be really hard to find each other,” said Gawne.

“So this is a really great opportunity for people to feel safe to come out and be supported and forge friendships with people from all over.”

Gawne has been in Samohi’s GSA for four years and before that was in a similar group at Lincoln Middle School. While he has been out for many years, he has watched how challenging and scary that process can be for a lot of his peers. As Co-president he greatly enjoyed being able to support members’ in coming to terms with their identity.

The mission of the GSA is to create a supportive place for queer students to build a community and express themselves freely. Throughout the pandemic, they continued to meet on Zoom although membership dropped off as some students didn’t feel safe joining in at home.