On Aug. 6, blue, pink and silver balloons decorated the backyard of the Bellmore Presbyterian Church, where Pride for Youth, an organization that offers support and service to LGBTQ+ youth from across Nassau County, held its annual prom.
Held virtually last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the prom was in person and outdoors this year, with a “Euphoria” theme — a popular teen drama on HBO — in conjunction with the Coffeehouse program.
Coffeehouse is PFY’s longest-running program, established in the 1990s as a safe and substance-free environment for LGBTQ+ youth, according to Vanessa Visquerra, the organization’s services coordinator.
“It was created as an environment for people to meet others and feel safe,” Visquerra said.
At Coffeehouse, members of the LGBTQ community and allies gather on Friday nights and receive services and support from peers and adults. It is a youth-only program, open to those ages 13 to 20. Visquerra said that Coffeehouse meetings had recently resumed in an in-person, outdoor setting, usually attracting 30 people a night.
“People were looking for resources and couldn’t get them, and as a transgender person on Long Island, I wanted there to be more resources,” said Aiden Kaplan, PFY’s LGBTQ services manager, who has worked with the group for seven years. “Prior to Covid, we were getting 75 to 100 people every week — we’re doing the best we can to reopen our doors.”
“We’ve been holding this prom for many years,” Visquerra added. “This is definitely not a new event. It is held annually in August, and we would always have at least 100 kids — this prom means a lot to us.”
“It’s funny — no one can remember the year we started having the prom,” Kaplan said, laughing. “The year before Covid, we had 145 people come. It has been growing each year.”
PFY is a division of the Long Island Crisis Center, and Visquerra said the pandemic has led to an influx of calls from LGBTQ+ individuals who felt socially isolated and in need.
“It is absolutely fantastic to give young LGTBQ people a space coming out of the pandemic,” said Lauren McCarthy, PFY’s prevention service manager, who previously worked as a social worker for the group.
“I am non-binary myself,” McCarthy added. “It’s great to be supported within an agency as staff.”
The Long Island Crisis Center’s offices are behind the church, and there is a separate space designated for PFY. The lawn behind the buildings was decorated for the theme, and food and refreshments were served to prom-goers. Additionally, staff handed out giveaways, such as colored sunglasses, beads and glitter.
Alex Heras, a three-year PFY member, said, “PFY has been a lifesaving thing for me. Everyone is super welcoming and fun.
“It’s good for couples — it’s good if you’re not in a relationship,” he said of the prom. “It’s a really safe space in general.”
“It is really nice to have a place to be open about things,” added Ezra Moore, a three-year member. “It’s also really nice to talk about in depth LGBTQ topics and have fun with like-minded people.”
PFY’s prom was virtual last year, and many attendees missed their own high school proms because of the coronavirus pandemic. Most guest were repeats who had been to the prom in the past.
“I thought it would be a good idea to come because I missed my senior prom,” Moore said.
Another PFY member, Hannah, a participant for the last two and a half years, said, “It’s been a lot of fun” being a part of PFY. “It’s important that this place exists — people can be allowed to exist without penalization.”
PFY’s Coffeehouse will continue to meet outdoors on Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m., weather permitting. PFY also offers an additional 26 programs and services to the LGBTQ+ community. For further information, the website is www.longislandcrisiscenter.org/prideforyouth/.
“One of the most important things to focus on is the impact the pandemic has had on their mental health,” Kaplan said. “We almost canceled the prom, but we understood the importance of having it.”