Seeing a lack of LGBTQ events in the Rutland County area, three drag queens have planned a Youth Pride Prom that will take place Saturday at Merchants Hall.
Tonya Durant, producer of the event and who performs as Anita Cocktail, TJ Wierzbicki, host of the prom and who performs as Amy Leigh Celestial, and Kamryn Eatherton, who performs as Bethadone Clinique, created the first-time event with Durant’s wife, Linda Otto.
Wierzbicki said the Youth Pride Prom grew from the success of the monthly drag shows that have been hosted at Merchants Hall since November.
“We have gotten a really big following with that. They’ve been very big for us and we basically saw that and thought, ‘What else could we use as a platform?’ and play off what we’re doing already. The four of us sat down and thought of different events and the Youth Pride Prom was the first one that came up that all four of us were like, ‘Yeah, that needs to happen.’ Something where we can bring the youth together to be in a space where they feel accepted and feel like they’re not the weird one,” he said.
Durant said organizers of the drag shows didn’t know of anything in the Rutland County area that would serve young LGBTQ community members and their allies among straight youth.
“It’s National Pride Month and you look (at Rutland County) and you don’t see anything here that’s showing it. I know Vermont celebrates it in September, but still there’s nothing here. You don’t see a flag anywhere, you don’t see anyone doing anything. Maybe we can do something about that,” Durant said.
The prom is an all-ages event primarily for people 13 to 18 but the organizers said they will be open to attendees younger than 21. No alcohol will be served.
The prom will include music provided by a disc jockey, a light show, refreshments and two drag shows performed by Durant, Wierzbicki and Eatherton.
“A lot of them are excited about that. They don’t have a chance to go anywhere else to see drag performances,” Durant said.
“Other than ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’” added Eatherton.
Eatherton said the closest drag shows in Vermont are in Burlington and Brattleboro but one show has a minimum age of 18 and another has a minimum age of 21.
Wierzbicki, who was born and raised in Rutland, said it was important for young people to spend time with peers who have similar experience to avoid a “very tragic or very different route.”
“You can find yourself lost and being in such a rural, tiny town, (young people can be) not sure where to go or who to reach out to for these feelings you might not know about or how to act. So when you go to a place where there’s other people and you think, ‘Wow, these people are just like me,’ you feel accepted and safe,” Wierzbicki said.
Durant added that adolescence is already a difficult time.
“It’s hard enough to grow up as it is, going through all the changes as you become older and become a teenager and go through all those changes, never mind when you feel like you’re different in that way. You feel like no one’s there to support you. That makes it even harder,” Durant said.
During the prom, a king and queen, a king and king and a queen and queen will be crowned. Durant said a Pawlet wig shop owner, Ruth Lampi, made and donated six crowns for the kings and queens.
Merchants Hall can only host about 150 people and Durant said most of the tickets are already sold. The organizers promoted the show through social media and fliers posted throughout Rutland. Eatherton said word-of-mouth had also been an important method of getting the word out about the prom.
Eatherton estimated about 80% of those planning to attend were members of the LGBTQ community and the rest were allies of the community.
Wierzbicki said the interest in the prom was an indication that there was a need in the Rutland area for more LGBTQ events.
“We’re hoping this event is kind of a kickoff to more youth events. If this goes well, and right now, we’re thinking it will, definitely looking at more nightly, monthly events to have youth come (and) hang out, dance, see a show. Just be themselves and not be worried about being made fun of or thinking they’re different or whatever,” Wierzbicki said.
The Youth Pride Prom will take place from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $20 for an individual and $30 for a pair.
Durant said the organizers might sell some more tickets through the Merchants Hall Facebook page or by calling Merchants Hall at 342-1803.
The organizers hope the Youth Pride Prom will become an annual event.