June 20, 2016 - 6:00 AM
SURREY, B.C. - School may be out, but Alisa Atchison has one more art project to complete. The 14-year-old from Surrey, B.C., will be spending her first weekend of the summer making a butterfly themed mask to wear to her school district's first-ever pride prom.
"I always thought that butterflies were really free ... and they're beautiful," she said. "I want to be free and beautiful as well."
Guildford Park Secondary School's gay-straight alliance is hosting the inaugural district-wide dance on Monday evening to give LGBTQ students from different high schools a chance to meet, have fun and feel supported.
"Each student is on their own path and in a different place when it comes to self-acceptance, or being out or not, or figuring out who they are and I think creating that safe space where you can just be who you are, whoever that is, is really, really important," said Guildford Park teacher Heather Kelley.
The idea for a dance came from students who felt LGBTQ youth do not have enough opportunities to connect.
Typical dances and events, which are exclusive to students from the same school, can feel limiting to queer students whose network of friends extends beyond the school borders, Kelley said.
"The likelihood you're going to meet an out queer teen that you want to date in a high school — you're really lucky if it happens," she said.
Having a district-wide event gets rid of the barrier and allows students to bring their dates and friends from other schools. And that includes students outside the LGBTQ community.
Yu Takahashi, 14, who volunteered to make decorations for the event, said she got involved because she sees herself as an ally.
"If I don't respect them or just reject them, they're going to feel uncomfortable and I don't feel that's right for this school or this community," Takahashi said.
The diversity of attendees is encouraging to students like Atchison, who said she hopes the event will help her peers better understand her identity as a pansexual, or someone not limited to sexual choice, regardless of their biological sex or gender.
Attitudes about the LGBTQ community need to move beyond acceptance to include more interaction and integration between people of all sexual orientations, Atchison said.
"Sometimes it seems as if there are two separate parties when in reality we are all people and we should all work together and do things together."
The idea for the pride prom has gained interest from across the province. Students from the neighbouring communities of Delta, Langley and New Westminster have reached out to organizers asking to attend.
While students outside Surrey are not permitted at the dance, Kelley said she hopes this will inspire other school districts to hold similar events.
Kelley launched a crowd-funding page hoping to raise $500 to buy some decorations and pizza for the volunteers.
As of Saturday, the event raised over three times that amount and received donations of prizes, food and DJ services.
Kelley said any leftover funds will go toward holding the event next year, allowing it to become an annual tradition.
The pride prom is one of many firsts for Surrey's LGBTQ community, launching a week ahead of the city's inaugural pride parade.
The city also raised a rainbow flag to half-mast in memory of those killed in the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. Flags that weren't an emblem of the city, province or country were previously barred from being raised at city hall.
While the events are unrelated, Kelley said it signals a change in how the community responds to diversity.
"I guess it's just Surrey's time, that we're ready to move forward ... and show the LGBTQ community that we're behind them," Kelley said.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016