Otterbein University’s LGBTQIA+ organization, FreeZone!, will open its annual Other Prom to high school students for the first time this weekend.
“FreeZone! is the LGBTQ organization on campus dedicated to creating a space where people can be themselves,” FreeZone! Vice President Abi Sinclair said. “High schoolers are coming in, and they need to know they’re safe here.”
Members of FreeZone! recognized that high school-aged people may be less likely to find ally resources. Secretary Isabel Elliott said high schoolers are an important demographic, so the organization has been trying to do more outreach centered on younger queer community members.
“Sometimes queer people aren’t out in high school, or they can’t dress the way they want in high school, or they can’t go with the person they want to go with when they’re in high school,” Sinclair said. “So Other Prom is a way to recreate the prom experience that allows people to fully be themselves.”
This year, FreeZone! collaborated with the Westerville Queer Collective (WQC), a Westerville-based LGBTQIA+ organization that frequently works with local high schools. This collaboration led to the idea of allowing high school students to attend Other Prom.
“I think getting engaged with the Westerville Queer Collective was a big part of it,” FreeZone! President Elliot Heye said. “It’s a good way for us to connect with the broader community. There’s a lot of people from rural Ohio who couldn’t safely explore their identities. As the LGBT organization [at Otterbein], all of us in some ways have been in that situation where you couldn’t fully be yourself. So, it’s important for us to make sure those spaces exist.”
FreeZone! members said that inviting LGBTQIA+ high school seniors to Other Prom acts as a tactic for driving admission to Otterbein, as it will help expose them to that on-campus community early on.
“Because part of it is making it a redo for high schoolers, part of my thought was it’d be cool if high schoolers could just do this the first time and they were able to have this space right away,” Heye said. “Looking from an admission standpoint, it’s a really good way to make LGBTQ seniors in high school know that they’ll be okay here already. So that if they’re thinking about or planning on going to Otterbein, they know it’s here.”
Along with efforts to expand the event, Other Prom is also assigned a theme every year, with this year’s being "masquerade."There will be a table for mask decorating, food, and space for dancing. The event will be held on Saturday, March 25, from 7-10 p.m. at the Fisher Gallery in Roush Hall.
“It’s just a gay, fun time,” said Kaylie West, FreeZone's! social media manager.