LGBTQ Elder Prom brings joy, reenacts scary dance from decades ago

Mel Weiss was filled with fear as his high school prom approached. He didn’t want anyone to know he was gay, so he brought a girl as his date.

“It was a time when people didn’t go out,” said Weiss, 88. “I just felt uncomfortable.”

Prom night was definitely not the formative experience she had in mind.

But Weiss and hundreds of other gay seniors recently got the chance to celebrate their prom night in its truest form.

Last week, the Los Angeles LGBT Center held its 27th annual Senior Prom event, inviting members of the LGBTQ+ community over the age of 50 to celebrate being gay — something many of them were embarrassed about as teens.

“Many of our elders grew up in a time when it was really difficult to disclose their identity. This was before same-sex marriage was possible,” said Kira Pollack, director of senior services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

The June 28 event marks the end of Pride Month — which can sometimes be difficult for seniors to attend.

“A lot of Pride celebrations aren’t necessarily the best for older people and may be easy for them to attend,” said Pollack, noting that Pride marches can be crowded and physically exhausting. “Feeling like they’re still able to celebrate being part of the community is really important.”

This year, more than 300 seniors dressed in prom attire gathered at the Los Angeles Zoo for an evening of dinner and dancing. The prom – sponsored by Angel City Football Club And Charlotte’s Web — is free and includes transportation, as well as assistance in purchasing clothes for seniors who are unable to do so. Most attendants are between 60 and 80 years old.

Guests can bring a companion if they wish, though many people — including Weiss — prefer to come alone and socialize. Pollack said some people found new romantic partners at the prom.

“We had so many people who were so happy to be there, and to be able to connect with each other,” Pollack said, noting that many seniors are not fully open in all aspects of their lives. “I saw so many people being able to be themselves and kiss their partner and dance and feel connected … it was so beautiful.”

The seniors said they could feel the love in the room.

“We had a great time,” said Weiss, who has attended several senior proms over the years. He lives here Triangle Square Senior Apartmentswhich provides affordable housing to LGBTQ+ seniors and is owned and operated by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Weiss grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and only came out about 20 years ago. Before that, “I would come out to my family and some friends, but I didn’t really come out to everybody,” he said.

Weiss said meeting other gay seniors has helped him feel more comfortable in his own skin. Socializing at the senior prom is an annual highlight for him.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “We all felt really happy when we got out there.”

Weiss was crowned “emperor” along with two other attendees – a take on the concept of prom king and queen. The crowns are given to the three oldest people present.

“We want to celebrate people who are getting older,” Pollack said.

Andre Simpson said he didn’t expect to have the chance to attend prom a second time, but he’s glad he did. He said the evening was memorable and meaningful.

“It’s so nice to see so much love and couples kissing and friends meeting and celebrating who you are,” Simpson, 67, said.

Nearly 50 years ago, he had no desire to go to his high school prom, but he went to “fit in,” he said. “It wasn’t fun.”

“I just felt social pressure,” said Simpson, who took a classmate to her prom. “I didn’t really want to go with a girl.”

Though Simpson’s high school prom wasn’t exactly what she expected, she said attending the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s senior prom fulfilled her expectations.

“It’s a vaccine against past hurts, past pain,” he said. “Many elders in the LGBTQ community have been through a lot, and yet their souls are happy. They’re still happy inside. They’re not destroyed by life’s disappointments.”

Making connections with other seniors in the LGBTQ community “has really been a healing process,” Simpson said, adding that she intends to continue going to prom for years to come.

“It’s great to be in a place where you’re completely accepted for who you are,” he said.

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