IMG_20150508_212737_editWhen I first joined the planning committee for the Durham Pride Prom three years ago, there were quite a few raised eyebrows among my family and friends. I suppose this reaction was understandable. After all, I never did attend prom when I graduated from high school a little over a decade ago.

Being an outsider, who never quite fit in, my high school days were incredibly difficult. In my experience there was a culture of violence that saturated the halls and classrooms with virtually every strain of homophobia and transphobia imaginable. Academics and personal development were very much secondary in those days. Quite often simply trying to make it through the day was the main concern on my mind, especially with the constant bouts of harassment and assault, which were always very real and difficult to avoid. To this day, I still consider my high school years to be the darkest period of my life.

Needless to say, when everyone was preparing to go to prom in my final year, I could not think of anything less appealing. I finished my exams, and purposely applied to every university out of commuting range. I left Oshawa and my experiences there, and vowed to never return.

In an ironic twist of fate, however, shortly after finishing school in Ottawa, I somehow ended up back in Oshawa; the very place I dreamed so long of leaving behind. Obviously still remembering my experiences growing up there, I wanted to make the best of the situation, and began to get involved with community work and various organizations such as PFLAG Durham to work with others that believed strongly in combating oppression and bullying of any kid. Admittedly, Durham had evolved over the years since I left in 2003, and with GSAs emerging throughout its high schools, community projects such as the Pride Prom began to take shape around this time too.

Durham Pride Prom is unique as it is a community project planned by members of various organizations such as The Youth Centre, AIDS Committee of Durham Region, Boys and Girls Club of Durham, Community Development Council Durham, Durham College & UIOT LGBTQ Centre, Pinewood Centre of Lakeridge Health, Durham Regional Police Services, PFLAG Canada – Durham, as well as a few community volunteers such as Lady Coleco, and myself.


Durham Pride Prom’s 2015 Planning Committee (Photo by Alicia Bryen of SNAP Oshawa).

This year’s event took place on May 8th at the Tosca Banquet Hall in Oshawa, and included nearly one hundred LGBTQ youth and allies from across Durham, the GTA, and Ontario aged 16-21.


The elegant setting was fabulously decorated to coincide with this year’s ‘Candy Land’ theme, and the event included dinner, dancing, drag performances from Tyler Uptight and Talia Skye, and prizes for everything from the best dancer to the highest heels.  Recognizing the diversity of the attendees present, the event also had a pair of Prom Aces (as opposed to the traditional roles of king and queen).


Planning committee members Victoria and Julie greet arriving guests.

Hosting the event were Andrew Edwards and Jason Yantha from the original cast of MTV Canada’s 1 Girl 5 Gays. Always a hit with the youth, Andrew and Jason have graciously set aside time from their busy schedules to travel to Durham Region to host the celebration for the past three years.

Jason Yantha and Andrew Edwards of MTV Canada's 1 Girl 5 Gays

Jason Yantha and Andrew Edwards of MTV Canada’s 1 Girl 5 Gays

Since I have handled much of the Pride Prom’s communications duties over the past three years, a significant part of my role has been to promote this event online. Interestingly during this process, some have questioned why we need a Pride Prom, and what purpose it serves. In my opinion, the Durham Pride Prom could not be more different than the prom I snubbed in high school. It isn’t about popularity contests or celebrating curious social hierarchies. Instead, it’s a celebration of individuality. In a culture that aggressively pressures our youth to conform in such rigid binarisms of sexuality and gender, we crucially need projects like this one that encourage kids to be true to themselves. Though Pride Prom is only one evening a year, I truly believe that a single positive experience can resonate quite deeply at this critical point of development in one’s life. By simply showing our kids that it’s okay to be yourself, we foster a sense of inclusivity and empowerment that my generation never had growing up.

By creating a positive space with an environment of allies, we can forge a stronger community with stronger individuals for the future. Back when I was in high school, no one really knew how anyone else identified, and most unfortunately, no one knew who was an ally. This issue recently came up in a discussion when I reunited with a classmate from those days. She said to me how ironic it was that we barely spoke, yet several of us could have been great friends if we had only been more open. In those days, there was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ type attitude that really kept us all in the dark and isolated, whether out of guilt, shame, or fear. With events such as Pride Prom we have begun to move beyond this era. There’s not only a supportive environment for those that identify as LGBTQ, but also one of allies that encourages us all to stand tall and be proud, regardless of who we are.

I’m happy to say that for 2015, Durham Pride Prom had what appears to be its most successful evening to date. As we begin the summer by sharing stories of our favourite moments from this year’s festivities, the committee will without a doubt be back to work soon planning an even bigger and better event for 2016.  Until next year, stay fabulous, everyone!


To keep up-to-date with Durham Pride Prom’s developments, please follow the Facebook page and Facebook group.

About the Author

Casey Robertson is a genderqueer human rights activist, musician ,composer, and graduate student researching musicology and cultural theory. In recent years he has been involved with the committees of LGBTQA projects such as the Durham Pride Prom, Allies for Equality, and Queerstock Canada. He also served as a member of the board of directors for PFLAG Durham Region from 2012-2014, where he was a member of the peer2peer support team and a facilitator for monthly sharing evenings. Casey currently resides in the Church-Wellesley Village of Toronto and enjoys spending his free time scoring independent film projects and playing with his band Liberty Street, while on the constant search to discover new artists of all expressive forms. Follow Casey on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at