Independent Lens


Senior Prom

For so many high-schoolers, prom is a rite of passage in all of its love-filled, well-coiffed, abundantly photographed glory. But for generations of LGBTQ+ youth, prom has been emblematic of an exclusion from a world they could not experience as their authentic selves.

AIRED: June 01, 2021 | 0:14:02


-I did not because I've been gay from day one.

-Yes, I did. -I didn't, I was too gay.

-Yeah. -I couldn't do it.

-And I was still doing straight.

[ Both laugh ]

-Yeah, I double dated

with my best friend at the time Gary, and...

I would've rather gone with Gary.

-Ann has made a difficult decision

to go to her senior prom.

A big night for most kids,

but a night most gay teens avoid.

-A junior prom, semi-formal, is the best dance of the year.

The rules are simple.

And they are very important.

-It all starts with knowing whether you're going or not,

and with whom.

Hello? -Say Mary,

as you know the prom's the 24th.

Would you like to go with me?

-Wouldn't you rather go to the prom

with your girlfriend?

-Oh, yeah.

But it wouldn't be allowed.





-Bingo. -Bingo!

-Okay, let's go check out Andi.

Andi, you a top or a bottom?

-I'm havin' a top. -You're a top, okay.

-[ Laughs ]

-My name is Andi Segal and I'm 71 years old.

I became gay when I was -- gay, lesbian --

when I was 17.

I live in Hollywood in a gay and lesbian village.

Every year we have the prom.

You dress up, you look your best.

Who can ask for more?

Many of us that are lesbian and gay or transgender,

they couldn't go to their prom because people are very cruel

in the straight world.

-My name is Nancy Valverde, born in March 1932.

I didn't go to anybody's prom.

I would not have gotten very far because of my attire.

And I wasn't going to put on a dress to please anybody.

-Did you go to your high school prom?

-Oh, yes.

[ Chuckling ] Oh, dear.

I went, but I wasn't very happy about it.

You couldn't have come out as a gay man

and come with another man.

This was a heterosexual world.

This is a world where we can be ourselves

-Welcome to Prom.

[ The Miracles' "Ain't Nobody Straight in L.A." plays ]

-I'm here at the prom with my beautiful gold dress.


-♪ Ain't nobody straight in L.A. ♪

♪ It seems that everybody is gay ♪

-We want to welcome you to Senior Prom.

[ Cheers and applause ]

-DJ B behind me, who is actually taking requests.

Couldn't be more excited having you here this year.

Thank you so much for coming.

Enjoy yourselves tonight. Thank you.

[ Earth, Wind & Fire and The Emotions'

"Boogie Wonderland" plays ]


-♪ Dance

♪ Boogie wonderland

-I love to dance and she loves to dance.


-Oh. -Oh, you got lipstick on your...

-It's good exercise. It's a sexual release, as well.

-Oh, my.

[ Chuckling ] Oh, my. -Yes.

Where I grew up

on the Bible Belt in Indiana, it was unheard of.

Two women weren't going through the prom.

-This is so cool because we can see the way we probably

would've played it in our youth.

Not that we're old.

-At 88 years old, I like to sit around

and see other people dance and see the action.

By the law of average, I should not be here today.

I always figured somebody was watching over me.

I grew up in East Los Angeles.

I was the only Latin lesbian out there.

My friends, you couldn't tell they were lesbians

because they didn't dress like me.

I just like to wear my male attire.

The cops, they seemed to know where all the gay kids were.

I was about 17 the first time they arrested me.

They handcuffed me and put me down, I said,

"What, I ain't doing nothing."

They said masquerading.

I said, "What the hell is that?"

It was illegal to wear men's clothing.

I went to jail for that.

At least eight, nine times.

It was worth every bit of everything I went through,

because now you can wear anything you want.

-♪ Ohh

♪ Dance

♪ Boogie wonderland

♪ Dance

♪ Boogie wonderland

♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah

-I always loved dancing.

And some part of me said, "Oh, you're going to look --"

No, I'm not gonna look anything.

I'm going to dance.

Just let it go and be able to be who I am.

I didn't know I was gay until I was 50.

As soon as I came out,

it was amazing to be turned on.

-♪ Yeah, yeah, yeah

-I remember the first dance I ever had with a girl.

She leaped on me, and -- and she -- she stuck

her tongue in my mouth.


And I liked it.

I liked it.

I didn't go to straight places after that.

But it was very, very hard for us to dance out in the open.

-Homosexuals who acknowledge their homosexuality

and pattern their lives accordingly are known as gays.

Gay people want to be themselves --

flirt, hold hands, kiss, and talk openly about sex

just as heterosexuals do.

-Well, we weren't wanted in the world.

We were scorned. We were outsiders.

We were outcasts.

The world was still in its closet.

I realized I was gay,

but I had already decided I wanted to be a priest.

I felt that I had to hide myself.

I was trying to be straight.

I was in the closet until I broke free.

I came to New York and I found masses of

gay people and lesbians,

everyone with different attitudes.

-This means that we can walk the streets as ourselves,

and not be harassed by anybody and just be ourselves.

-Be proud to be ourselves.

-When you break that free, there's no going back.

I came out as a gay man who was going to be a priest.

No churches were accepting of one being gay.

And I said to myself, "Yeah, I'll start one."

And I did.

We preach in our church that the people should be

proud of themselves, proud of being gay

in all parts of their life.

And being gay is good, so one should be proud of it.

[ Crowd chanting ]

The Church of the Beloved Disciple

was meant to be a home, a loving acceptance of everyone.

It was a community, it was a family.

Being an out priest is a good feeling.

Everyone should know that they are worthy of love,

that they have worth in just being a human being.


-Raise your hand if you believe in love.

Do you believe in love?

Well, come on, seniors.

I got something to say about it.

Come on, seniors, come dance with me.


-I didn't feel that I deserved to be loved.

When my mom discovered that I was lesbian, she would say,

"You're gonna grow up to be a nothing."

When I started going to the lesbian bars,

that's where I found myself.

I was just dating, you know, different women,

and then I met Skid.

My life began with her.

I never had anybody love me

the way she did, and I loved her because of it.


She died in 2005, February 2nd.

When she passed away, she's gone.

She's not in my bed, holding me

and telling me that she loves me.

I know that I'm blessed to have her for 36 years,

you know what I -- all those years that I had her.

As you get older, things change and it's not the same.

It was time for me to move on.

I went to a grief group at the village,

and Nancy was there.

I looked at her and I thought, "My God, she's gorgeous."


They need to know, the young ones,

that you can have lasting relationships until the end.

That you can make it last.

-Now, we're at the big moment of the evening

where we're going to crown

a King and Queen of the Senior Prom.

[ Cheers and applause ]

We're first going to do the oldest.

Who here is between the ages of 80 and 85?

Raise your hand.

Who's between the ages of 85 and 90?

[ Cheers and applause ]

Robert how old are you?


-92! [ Cheers and applause ]

-I look in the mirror and I see this older man.

Try and remember when you were 21, 22, 23.

That's the person that's inside my skull.

-Now, what have you as a gay man or woman

got to overcome in the way of darkness?

You've got to feel that what you believe is so important

that you will stand up to the world for it,

that your innate rightness to say,

"I am a created human being, I have a right to be here,"

is such a strong and firm conviction of loving

and liking yourself that you will extend it to the world

and to your brother and sister.

-Birdie and Robert are our new King and Queen.

Come on up! [ Cheers and applause ]

-We've come quite a nice distance,

but there's still more to go.

[ Cheers and applause ]

We're here, we're queer,

and we're not gonna curl up and die.


-Okay, again, I just want to know one thing,

are we all having fun tonight?

[ Cheers and applause ]

-I feel like a young bachelorette again

at 79 years of age.

-Don't run 'em over. -Goodnight, everybody.

-Don't run her -- [ Laughs ]

-Tonight was the best time of my life.

-I don't normally eat cake, but I had cake.

I had fun.

-Like a queen.

-Thank you. Goodnight.

I look forward to seeing the whole bunch of you

at the next big affair.

Ciao, bambinos.




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