At high school dances, Andie Burkey settled for dresses.
The junior from nearby Fairport, who describes herself as “very bisexual,” would have preferred to don suits instead, but shied away because of the stigma.
But at the Pride Network’s first-ever Queer Ball this past Saturday, Burkey and others felt free to dress how they wanted, and to take whoever they wanted as dates, too.
“It’s great to be able to come out and express myself in something like this,” said Maddie Savich, a transgender sophomore and Pride Network’s social and political outreach chair. “And I know a lot of people also never really had that opportunity, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Around 100 students gathered in a gussied-up May Room for the event, which featured popular campus DJ Dr. Griffs and a performance from local step group Distinguished Dynasty. The party — themed “Over The Rainbow” — replaced the annual drag show as the Pride Network’s premier fall event.
Attendees were treated with banners, balloons, some non-alcoholic drinks, and a painted backdrop of the Yellow Brick Road to take pictures in front of. Partygoers were also invited to take part in several competitions with cash prizes throughout the night, sponsored by the Rochester Victory Alliance, The Mocha Center, and Trillium Health.
There was best-dressed couple, most “on theme” costume, and the much-heralded runway competition. As Pride Network President Miles Perry emphasized, it wasn’t what the contestants wore, but how they wore it.
Queer couples were the majority on that night, a reprieve for those who felt pressured otherwise before college.
“There was no question that I had to take a guy as my date [to prom],” senior Rachel Farr said.
The Queer Ball, she said, allowed her to feel comfortable taking her trans-male partner to an open party.
Plenty of straight allies made appearances as well.
“I think the environment of the ball is what I enjoyed the most,” said sophomore Svarina Karwanyun. “I spoke to a lot of people who I knew who were just so happy to be able to dance freely and express themselves, because they can’t behave like that back home and because they aren’t out.”
Freshman Aaron Hamilton, another straight ally, was asked to Queer Ball by his friend Timur Cinay, a student from Turkey.
“It’s a lot of fun. I’m very flattered that I was asked. It feels just like a regular night with my friends. I’m just here with everybody that I love very much,” Hamilton said. “It shows that the queer community isn’t something that’s in a small pocket or that is hidden, but that it’s something celebrated and really out there.”
Part of the point of Queer Ball, said Perry, was to more fully establish Pride Network as a presence on campus.
“If you have a strong enough presence, people tend not to try to trample on that,” he said.
And, he added, it was a way for the group to justify the funding it receives and to ensure that it could continue to receive the same level of support.
Savich summed up the message of the night: “Pride is very intersectional, accepting of everyone and their experiences and what they’ve gone through. And we don’t define people by what they choose to label themselves as. Regardless if you are queer or not, you can come and support and hang out. I want everyone to know that they have an opportunity to participate in something like this and support.”