A Night to Remember
Gay and lesbian couples have the time of their lives at Pasadena’s first Rainbow Prom
By Carl Kozlowski 05/21/2014
The scene at Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Morrison Hall looked like countless other high school proms. A colorful arch of balloons hung over an onstage deejay spinning a mix of 1980s-era Michael Jackson classics and modern-day Latin-inflected dance tunes for gyrating dancers on the floor.
A fondue table enabled attendees at last Friday’s event to enjoy chocolate-covered treats, as couple after couple posed happily in a photo booth.
But this wasn’t a typical prom. Rather, it was the First Annual Rainbow Prom, sponsored by Westminster’s sister ministry, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which serves the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community.
The Rev. Rick Eisenlord, Good Shepherd’s pastor, smiled broadly as he looked over the gym and its crowd of 50 bopping to the beat. Eisenlord knew that this latest innovative move for his congregation, following an extravagant event marking World AIDS Day in December, would have a tremendous impact upon them.
“No one’s ever done a rainbow prom in the Los Angeles area before,” says Eisenlord. “The idea started as a community dance, but then I thought how a lot of our parishioners never got to go to their prom because they were embarrassed or bullied, and maybe they didn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or if they did, they felt they couldn’t take the person they loved of the same gender. So we thought let’s turn this into a prom.
“This is a huge step for some people,” the reverend adds. “This is the first time some of these people have been out in public with the person they love and danced. They never had the opportunity.”
The two-dozen or so gay and lesbian couples who took advantage of the opportunity came dressed in everything from shorts and T-shirts to tuxedos and gowns. Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” sparked a frenzy of hand gestures and retro ’80s dance moves, while “Careless Whisper” by Wham! was the big slow-dance of the evening.
For Michael Johnson, a bisexual male from Glendale who regularly attends Good Shepherd, the night was not just a chance to have some frenzied fun on the dance floor. It enabled him to shake off the memories of his own high school prom while openly expressing his sexual orientation.
“It’s really nice, because there’s always straight couples at high school prom season and no chances for gay people to be themselves,” says Johnson, who came alone and danced with numerous pairings of friends. “I grew up in Temecula, a pretty conservative town. I went to junior prom with a girl I had no interest in, because my parents wanted me to fulfill that. But here you can explore who you are and they love you no matter what, and it’s really nice.”
Johnson’s experience contrasted sharply with Claudia Gonzales, a 19-year-old lesbian from Alhambra. She attended with her girlfriend, who chose not to be interviewed. Gonzales does not attend Good Shepherd, but met Eisenlord two years ago when he appeared at a Models of Pride seminar, an event that helps LGBT teens find support and strength in their decision to come out.
“Things are different now and I could have taken my girlfriend to prom, but her grades weren’t good enough to go,” says Gonzales. “I would probably have to tell my parents I was going with a friend, but I think they know what’s up and just deal with it.”
Perhaps the most touching show of support at the prom came from Curtis Jacobs and Quan Mooney, who appeared to be a gay couple sitting with their baby sleeping next to them. In reality, both men were straight but had flown in from Atlanta to show their support for gay attendee Simon Eishyan, a Glendale resident who attends Good Shepherd.
“My wife was his best friend in high school, so he asked us to come and support him on the night when he could finally go to prom with someone he loved,” says Mooney. “I think the chance to be yourself and unafraid is important. Everyone deserves that.”