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Gay elder prom brings joy, redo of dance many dreaded decades ago

6 days ago 40

Mel Weiss was filled with dread as his high school prom approached. He didn’t want anyone to know he was gay, so he brought a girl as his date.

“This was a time where people were not out,” said Weiss, now 88. “I just felt uncomfortable.”

Prom night certainly was not the formative experience he had in mind.

But Weiss and hundreds of other gay seniors recently had the chance to redo their prom night, as their true selves.

Last week, the Los Angeles LGBT Center held its 27th annual Senior Prom event, which invites members of the LGBTQ+ community over age 50 to celebrate being gay — something many of them were ashamed of as teens.

“Many of our older adults grew up in a time where coming out was really hard. This was before gay marriage was even possible,” said Kiera Pollack, director of senior services at Los Angeles LGBT Center.

The June 28 event closed out Pride Month — which can sometimes be difficult for seniors to participate in.

“A lot of Pride celebrations aren’t necessarily the greatest for folks that are older to get to and engage in,” said Pollack, noting that Pride marches can be crowded and physically taxing. “To feel like they’re still able to celebrate being part of the community is really important.”

This year, more than 300 seniors dressed up in prom outfits and gathered at the Los Angeles Zoo for an evening of dinner and dancing. The prom — which was sponsored by the Angel City Football Club and Charlotte’s Web — is free and includes transportation, as well assistance to purchase an outfit for seniors who can’t afford to do so. Most of the attendants are between 60 and 80.

Guests are welcome to bring a date if they wish, though many people — including Weiss — choose to come solo and mingle. Pollack said some people met new romantic partners at the prom.

“We had so many people that were so happy to be there, and to be able to connect with each other,” said Pollack, noting that many of the seniors aren’t completely out in all aspects of their lives. “I saw a number of people just being able to be themselves and be able to kiss their partner and dance and feel connected … it was just beautiful.”

The seniors said they could feel the love in the room.

“We felt very good,” said Weiss, who has attended several senior proms over the years. He lives at Triangle Square Senior Apartments, which offers affordable housing to LGBTQ+ seniors and is owned and operated by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Weiss grew up in an orthodox Jewish family and came out only about 20 years ago. Before that, “I was out to my family and a few friends, but I wasn’t really out to everyone,” he said.

Meeting other gay seniors, Weiss said, has helped him feel more comfortable in his own skin. Socializing at the senior prom is a yearly highlight for him.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “We all felt very happy when we left.”

Weiss was crowned a “monarch” — a play on the prom king and queen concept — along with two other attendees. The crowns are given to the three oldest people there.

“We want to celebrate people as they’re getting older,” Pollack said.

Andre Simpson said he didn’t expect to get a second shot at attending prom, but he’s glad he did. He said the evening was memorable and meaningful.

“Seeing all the love, couples kissing and friends meeting and celebrating just being who you are,” said Simpson, 67.

Nearly 50 years ago, he had no desire to go to his high school prom, but he went to “fit in,” he said. “It was not fun.”

“I just felt social pressure,” said Simpson, who took one of his female classmates to his prom. “I really didn’t want to go with a girl.”

Although Simpson’s high school prom was not what he had hoped for, he said attending the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s senior prom made up for it.

“It’s an inoculation against the past hurts, the past pain,” he said. “A lot of elders in the LGBTQ community have survived a lot, and still their spirits are happy. They’re still joyful inside. They have not been destroyed by life’s disappointments.”

Bonding with other seniors in the LGBTQ community is “really a healing process,” said Simpson, adding that he intends to continue going to the prom for years.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be in a place where you’re totally accepted for who you are,” he said.

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