Queer joy is magical: The Pride Committee presents Queer Prom


Friday, April 21, Andrews Hall was alight with laughter, music, chatter and general elation as the queer community at the College of William and Mary gathered in celebration of its annual Queer Prom. As a part of a larger week-long program, the event was hosted collaboratively by two of the College’s prominent LGBTQ+ student organizations: Rainbow Coalition and Lambda Alliance. 

Before the Queer Prom took place, this year’s Pride Week featured Sunday Night Trivia on April 16, a morning hike and a Swem Special Collections Research Center open house on April 17, more oral histories on top of a film screening on April 18, a Puppy Pride Party and Queer Sex Education workshop on April 19 and a paint night on April 20. Pride Week subsequently culminated in a Pride Fest followed by a drag showcase on Saturday. Each activity had its unique attributes to cater to a variety of student interests, with Queer Prom offering students a space to express themselves freely.

One such avenue of self-expression came from fashion, as described by Queer People of Color member TJ Manfuso ’26.

“I just wanted to show off, if I’m being honest,” Manfuso said. “And also, I love seeing the various levels of formality that people have taken into account. You see some people in skater dresses and some people in a vest.”

Certainly, a glance around the room revealed a diverse array of wardrobe choices, with each added dress, suit coat and skirt shining just as stylishly as the next. Rainbow Coalition Co-President Vincent SheaBerry ’23 connected the flexibility of the dress code to the prom’s larger intended purpose of fostering a community dedicated to inclusion and acceptance.  

“We really want to try and make a space where new students on campus especially can start to develop that community in a queer space and also just really embody self-expression in whatever way they like,” SheaBerry said. “Traditionally, we say it’s semi-formal but wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable. So giving that space to students to just dance and be themselves without fear of judgment is something that we really strive for.”

This sense of community was evident to any passersby, with the Andrews floor being filled with twirling dancers and merry minglers as well as a large circle of students seated together on one side of the foyer. In light of this convivial atmosphere, attendee Alex Mekailian ’24 shared his exciting experience with encountering fresh faces.

“I think that it’s had a positive impact so far,” Mekailian said. “I’ve gotten to meet a good couple of people that I never met before. So it just feels good to bond with other queer people.”

Pride Committee member Cassie Szumigala ’23 emphasized the importance of creating this joyous and festive sense of community, especially following the isolating outbreak of COVID-19.

“I feel like pre-COVID and after COVID, there’s been a big change in how much community means to people because of everything being virtual and distanced and not being able to hang out with people,” Szumigala said. “I feel like community has such a stronger meaning and more value to people now that we are able to do stuff again.”

During quarantine, events hosted by Rainbow Coalition and Lambda Alliance like queer gallery showcases and friendship speed dating were held virtually through a program called Gather Town, which maximized its interactive properties by combining video game elements and Zoom link pop-ups. While most gatherings are held in person now, Lambda Alliance President Kell Hoofnagle ’24 pointed out that Pride Week proves the ongoing legacy of the pandemic.

“I think it’s only been as big as it’s been for the last three years,” Hoofnagle said in reference to Pride Week. “I think before that, it was only a one day event. … Pride Fest was the thing we’ve been doing for a couple more than three years, but it used to be just Pride Fest, and now I think Vincent really helped expand it to what it is now.”

According to SheaBerry, Queer Prom as of 2023 has officially existed for six years, and before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was routinely scheduled for the same day as Pride Fest. However, a week-long program with only two in-person events was adopted in light of social distancing measures, which laid the general framework for the fun-filled festivities that continue to flourish to this day. 

“When I was put in charge of planning these things, I asked if people wanted to continue that format, and they said yes,” SheaBerry said. “So it’s been a full week with seven plus events ever since.”

Preparations for this year’s Pride Week started as far back as October 2022, and unfortunately, a few obstacles had arisen by the time it premiered in April. One challenge was raising enough money through internal fundraising and external donations, as Queer Prom was not funded by the College’s Student Assembly in the way that Pride Fest and the drag showcase were. Another hurdle was booking the necessary spaces, but SheaBerry expressed a grateful satisfaction with regards to the final location of the event.

“We feel very happy getting the Andrews Hall space so that we could do the dance in a way that was in the middle of campus,” SheaBerry said. “So regardless of if you walk, bike or drive to campus, anyone could come to that space and celebrate. It was hard, but we are very proud of how it came out.”

SheaBerry spearheaded the planning and orchestration of this year’s Queer Prom, as well as Pride Week as a whole, and he has been an integral part of the process since he transferred to the College in 2021. Next year’s Pride programming will be headed by Hoofnagle, who helped administer and aided with the project for the last two years.

“It’s the culmination of hundreds of hours of work so that it can run as smoothly as possible for these people to get the festivities they deserve on campus,” SheaBerry said. “I’m sad to be stepping away from running the Pride Committee, but I am a little bit happy to have a little bit of that time back and know that Pride is in good hands for years to come.”

Hoofnagle has already taken the time to start planning out how the budgeting will go. In light of this endeavor, they have suggested that perhaps next year’s Queer Prom theme might relate to rocks, especially since it was a frontrunner on this year’s Google form, just after this year’s final theme: “Queer Joy is Magical.” They connected the theme to the reason why they continue to devote themselves to this task.

“I think it’s important because people deserve to know that other people who are like them are gathering in community and that is a joyful thing and a thing to be celebrated,” Hoofnagle said. “You are not alone. We are here with you.”

Queer Prom would not have been possible without Pride Committee, which included members of Rainbow Coalition, members of Lambda Alliance and even some non-members looking to lend a hand. The committee was further divided into sub-committees focusing on event planning and logistics, finance and marketing and communications, all with the collective goal of creating the best event possible. Szumigala was a member of the first of these three groups, and she shared the motivation behind her participation as a desire to get involved.

“I wanted to get more involved on campus my second semester, and after all of my club exec positions had kind of run their course, I wanted to still be involved on campus,” Szumigala said. “And as a queer person myself, I felt like this was something that merged those two interests really well.” 

On the marketing and communications side of Queer Prom setup, word of the dance was spread through a myriad of mediums. Physical posters were pinned across campus walls, brick paths were chalked, and information was shared with different campus institutions such as Student Assembly and the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Department. The subcommittee also utilized online mediums by distributing details through GroupMe, listservs and Instagram accounts. Queer Prom attendee Lauren Cook ’26 stressed that this kind of visibility serves a wider purpose at the College. 

“I think the more times Pride happens, the more William and Mary is going to realize that it’s important to their students, and maybe they’ll change what they do for the College as a whole when they see how their students are reflecting that,” Cook said. 

Altogether, SheaBerry defined success for Queer Prom as being able to bring a smile to the face of another student here on campus. He weighed in on the importance of delivering on this goal, especially in the greater environment surrounding the College. 

“Finding a safe queer space is hard, especially in Williamsburg, Virginia,” SheaBerry said. “So even just having one student come and enjoy Queer Prom means it’s a success in my book.”

Szumigala, who tended to the check-in desk for the duration of the event, observed that her post gave her the unique opportunity to catch sight of how everyone was making the most of the night.

“[Success is] being able to observe everyone around me,” Szumigala said. “Everyone is talking to somebody — they’re involved in some way, they’re dancing, they’re picking up pride flags, like anything like that. So I would definitely describe it as a success in that way.”


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