Prom season is technically still several months away, but with a beautiful historic venue available and a group of dedicated volunteers willing to organize the event, prom in September just made sense.
The plans for Queer Prom in Mineral started a few months ago, after Lewis County Dignity Guild Board Member Sara Smiley talked to a friend about holding more events in East Lewis County.
The Lewis County Dignity Guild, a social welfare nonprofit founded in 2022, is based in Chehalis and historically holds most of its events in the Twin Cities, but serves all of Lewis County.
“I’m one of a couple of board members that actually live out in East Lewis County … and I’ve really been wanting to do more activities out towards my neck of the woods,” Smiley said. “I know it’s a lot smaller population, but I think it would be really fun to start trying to encourage some more inclusive Guild-related activities.”
The friend Smiley spoke to about holding more events in East Lewis County was Jane Hodges, who volunteer-directs an artist residency program at Mineral School: a former elementary school built in 1947 that now functions as a nonprofit.
“(Hodges) had kind of a crossover time where her nonprofit had the space and no residents, so she was like, ‘Hey, we should team up with the Guild and do a Queer Prom. That would be a really fun thing for us to all do,’” Smiley recalled.
The event, which took place on Saturday, Sept. 9, aimed to provide a fun, safe prom experience to Lewis County LGBTQ+ community members of all ages, complete with a DJ, food, dancing, swag bags and prom royalty awards.
With just over 60 pre-sale tickets and another dozen or so sold at the door, Smiley said the turnout was more than she anticipated.
“There were whole families that showed up. There were people who just came by themselves. Groups of friends came. It was like every walk of life was there and I was just so happy. Everybody had such a good time,” Smiley said.
The one hiccup the event faced came in the form of fliers circulated around East Lewis County the night of Sept. 8. Those fliers called Queer Prom organizers “child groomers” and included a phone number for people to “let this business know how you feel about them.”
That phone number did not belong to any of the event’s organizers, however. It belonged to a private citizen who received a handful of unsavory calls stemming from the canvassing effort.
“They thought it was the Mineral School but it happened to be just some poor citizen who had just moved to the area,” Smiley said. “She was getting all kinds of calls, but she actually ended up coming to the school and being like, ‘I don’t know what this is that I’m getting all these phone calls for, but I support you and I’m really excited.”
The citizen ended up volunteering at the event, as did several others who found out about the Queer Prom through the hateful fliers.
“It kind of backfired,” Smiley said of the canvassing effort.
In a formal response letter to the canvassing effort, the Lewis County Dignity Guild stated, “Our mission has always been to make Lewis County a more inclusive and happy place to live for all people of tolerance. We will continue to take steps to support public safety as we actively pursue our mission.” The full statement can be read on the Dignity Guild’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/DignityGuild.
There was private security at the event and volunteers did everything they could to make attendees feel safe, including walking them to their cars, Smiley said.
“We just did everything we could to make sure everyone didn’t have to worry, just got to have a fun time,” Smiley said.
Given the success of this Queer Prom, Smiley said she hopes to make Queer Prom in Mineral an annual event.
“A big thank you to all the attendees who came to party with us and just were their authentic selves, and thanks to everyone for being who they are and trusting us to have an event like this for everybody,” Smiley said.