The students from high schools across Chicago who journeyed to Northside College Prep on the evening of May 1 discovered their heart's desire was no farther than their own backyard. From wall to wall, the Emerald City of Oz had been conjured in the school's gymnasium by Northside's students for the annual LGBTQ & Allies Prom.
Instead of the green-tinted spectacles Dorothy and company had been given as protection from being too "dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful city," however, prom attendees were offered glow-stick necklaces before they entered a world lit with a wall of green lanterns and covered by a ceiling of twinkle lights that served well as the beautiful stones of L. Frank Baum's famed city. On one side of the room, fabric screens showed scenes from the 1939 film that cast their own bewitching light on the people dancing in front with such undiminished joy that when technical difficulties cut the music for a few minutes, they sang their own song.
According to co-organizer and Chicago Public Schools ( CPS ) social-worker Noa Padowitz, this fourth annual prom has grown exponentially even from last year's event. "We have over 200 students this year. From as far away as Lisle, Glenview, Niles, they've come from all over today," she told Windy City Times. "We have over 38 schools here. We've had CPS funded bus pools to bring students in."
"I haven't been able to find another district-endorsed LGBTQ prom in the country," added co-organizer and Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School Special Education teacher A.J. Wieselman. "We might be the only one. Most often kids come up to us and say 'thank you I was so glad I was able to be at this.' Another common question is 'are you going to have this again next year?' It's really exciting that we can confidently say 'yes'."
When it comes to support for the event, Wieselman and Padowitz aren't the only one's giving that answer. "We've had tremendous support from our community partners all over the city, to Northside's administration to CPS," Wieselman said. "This has been a story of people saying 'yes' and we are so grateful."
Padowitz said that the prom ended up at Northside at the request of the school's gay-straight alliance ( GSA ), whose students also picked the theme.
"A lot of things at Northside are student driven" Northside College Prep Principal Kelly Mest told Windy City Times. "I think it's great that the students are engaged. We have a commitment to the community and to be global citizens. Our students feel that and they act upon it."
Among those who arrived at the Emerald City were Northside 9th graders Mandy Gomez and Alice Sickler. It was their first LGBTQ & Allies prom. "Everything is so beautiful," Sickler said. "It's awesome that we all get to celebrate this together. "
"Everyone is just so much more comfortable in their own skin," Gomez added. "With or without music."
Once Columbia University Assistant Director of Diversity Recruitment Initiatives Precious Davis and performer Khloe took the floor, that comfort turned into wild excitement. Yet to miss an opportunity to perform at the prom, both Davis and Khloe seemed to revel in Baum's own advice to "never give up. No one knows what's going to happen next."