Ciari Joseph has been invited to prom three times before but always said no.
But when the 19-year-old found out that Pridelines, a Miami-based LGBTQ youth nonprofit, was hosting its youth prom Saturday night, they threw on a dress and heels and drove to Miami Beach. (Joseph identifies as nonbinary and uses pronouns like they/them rather than “he” or “she.”)
“I love the community,” Joseph said. “I love everything about Pridelines.”
Pridelines hosted its 24th annual LGBTQ prom for about 120 youths ages 13 to 20 at UNIDAD on Collins Avenue. The free dance allows Miami’s queer youth to enjoy themselves in a prom-setting without the limits of a traditional high school prom, said Pridelines director of youth programs Charli Williamson.
The nonprofit, at 6360 NE 4th Court in the City of Miami, provides LGBTQ youth with clothing, toiletries, hot meals, help to find safe housing and a space to hang out. Williamson said while traditional prom tickets and outfits are expensive, Pridelines provided a majority of the attendees with free outfits to look their best.
“The benefit is being ... open to be themselves,” she said. “Self expression, self respect.”
The prom was open to youth ages 13 to 20 and didn’t enforce any dress codes — no prohibitions against spaghetti straps or jeans, no tuxedo mandates — typical of traditional high school proms. At this gala, fashion statements included gowns, velvet capes and even overalls paired with a rainbow fanny pack.
The teenagers took off their high heels and dress shoes before running to the dance floor. Joseph dances too hard to wear heels.
“It’s awesome to see people who aren’t usually comfortable with themselves be comfortable,” Joseph said.
Kai Ruiz, a 14-year-old high school student, came to prom with friend Zoe Cuccaro, 15. Kai wore a flower crown and two gold star stickers plastered on their face. Zoe wore green stars to match her green hair.
Kai said they felt welcomed at the prom because they’re not required to wear a dress and everyone uses their pronouns. The prom gave the two friends a chance to meet other teenagers in the summer.
“It’s nice to have a place to go do stuff during the summer,” Kai said. “Even if it’s just for the day.”