On June 12, 2016, twenty-nine-year-old Omar Mateen shot and killed forty-nine people and wounded fifty-three others in a terrorist attack inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Mateen was eventually shot and killed by Orlando police following a three-hour standoff. It was both the deadliest mass shooting by a solo shooter, and the deadliest occurrence of aggression against the LGBTQ community in U.S. history.
On the following Friday, the New York Public Library hosted its annual anti-prom for LGBTQ students, an informal, fun time for students ages twelve to eighteen in the New York City area. “Anti-Prom provides an alternative, safe space for all teens who may not feel welcome at official school programs or dances because of their sexuality, gender presentation, the way they dress, or any other reason.” The library has been hosting this event since 2004, and the number of attendees has been steadily growing since its debuted attendance of a hundred. Admission is always free, and a DJ provides music. By the end of the night, non-gender-specific King and Queen of the anti-prom are chosen. Some of the guest masters of ceremony over the years has been Simon Doonan, Creative Ambassador-at-Large of the New York City-based clothing store Barneys, and Jimmy Van Bramer, an openly gay councilman from Queens.
The theme this year is based on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Some of the themes from the past were:
Clearly, this year had a different tone to it based on the Orlando shootings that occurred five days prior. Some people felt the need to show up simply to show solidarity in the face of this horrific occurrence. Others penned “love letters” to their counterparts at the Orlando Public Library. The letter writing was a way for the students—many of which identify as LGBTQ—to cope with what had ensued. The letters were sent to the teen center down at the Orlando library in Florida. A total of fifty-one letters were sent, many of which used the rainbow colors the Pride Flag to show solidarity. Orlando Youth Programs Coordinator Erin Topolesky said she began to tear up moments after opening the letters: “She looked forward to sharing the letters with her teens and was looking for the right time to touch on such a sensitive subject.” Topolesky plans on having the letters archived across the street from the library, at the Orange County Regional History Center, in addition to many other items of sympathy and condolence that have been sent to the city since tragedy struck.