+

Prom night for Blair Smith didn’t begin in a stretch limo. It started with a broken down car in a high school parking lot and a ticking clock.

Smith had spent the last four weeks pulling together the dance amid a punishing schedule that included fundraising, advertising, and studying for AP exams. Now he had chaperones to organize, food to distribute, and a quickly dwindling supply of minutes.

Frantic, he hitched a ride home, borrowed his mom's car and sped toward the event hall, where he and his fellow student organizers helped put the finishing touches on their hard work.


By 7 p.m., the room was ready.

Photo by Brian Reach.

This was no ordinary prom.

There was no king, no queen, and few tuxedos. Instead, there was a space for over 300 LGBTQ youth to dress and dance how they wanted and, more importantly, a space to be completely themselves without fear of judgment.

The students at NOVA Pride Prom gather for a group shot. Photo via NOVA Pride.

The May 12 event, dubbed "NOVA Pride Prom," began two years ago at Loudon Valley High School. Smith, who took charge of planning this year's event as his senior project, partnered with local LGBTQ advocacy organizations to expand the celebration to include all of northern Virginia.

The goal was to create a prom less beholden to tradition and more open to free expression.

The theme was "Celebrate Our Past," and the venue was decorated with artwork paying tribute to LGBTQ heroes and history.

"There wasn’t the typical prom drama that happens where, 'Oh my god, she’s wearing the same dress as me,' or 'Oh, is he dancing with her?'" Smith explains of NOVA Pride Prom. "It was really just a place where people could come together and meet for the first time."

Smith (center) with advisor Amy Cannava at Pride Prom. Photo via NOVA Pride.

In addition to the dance floor, Smith and his co-planners set up a lounge with board games and couches for students to socialize and tables where local advocacy organizations — NOVA Pride, GLSEN NOVA, and the Trevor Project — could distribute resources.

Creating spaces like NOVA Pride Prom where young LGBTQ people can feel at home is crucial to their development.

"'Comfortable' may sound like a simple term to a lot of people, but it is not something that some people are experiencing in their day to day life. Just being comfortable is a huge deal," explains Brian Reach, who runs NOVA Pride, one of the organizations that partnered with Smith to run the event.

"Celebrate our Past" #novaprideprom #lgbtqyouth #novapride #loveislove #loveislocal

A post shared by NOVA Pride (@northernvapride) on

Growing up in northern Virginia, Reach recalled being the frequent target of verbal abuse. One incident, in which he was called "the other f-word" over the school loudspeaker injured him so deeply he wound up faking sickness so that his mom would take him home.

"I had a lot of sick days," he says.

For Reach, NOVA Pride Prom was a chance to give LGBTQ young people from his home region a celebration a chance to celebrate their lives and achievements in a way he barely could have imagined as a student.

"This is by far probably the event I’m the most proud of," he says.

While Reach says conditions for LGBTQ people have improved dramatically in the politically divided area since he was growing up, tensions still occasionally threaten to spill over and sometimes do.

Earlier in the school year, the LGBTQ rights group Smith founded in his high school was asked to remove promotional posters at the urging of a local parent.

In January, a motion to add LGBTQ protections to Loudon County school system's employment discrimination policy was defeated in a hotly contested school board vote.

Still, Smith says teachers and administrators at his school have largely applauded his efforts to organize and support his LGBTQ classmates.

Photo via NOVA Pride.

Both Smith and Reach say they received almost no pushback from the community about the dance.

The venue, the Bellevue Conference and Events Center, provided the space at a large discount.

Fundraising efforts were met with messages of support and donations from a wide cross-section of parents, students, teachers, and local residents. (Despite the community support, NOVA Pride is still raising money to cover the costs of the dance and supports continuing outreach efforts to LGBTQ youth in the area.)

In many ways, NOVA Pride Prom was a typical school dance — which was exactly the point.

As the night wore on, chaperones and students dropped their guard, made new friends, and danced the Macarena.

The success of the event, Smith thinks, shouldn't surprise anyone. He credits to his fellow student organizers for helping realize the best version of what a prom can be. "It’s amazing … to see how hardworking students can be when they’re passionate about something," he says.

For other students, the night was anything but typical.

"I'm trans and bi. I’ve grown up in a family that would rather have a dead daughter than a son like me," one student wrote  in an anonymous e-mail to Reach. The dance, the student explained, was the first time they'd felt not only accepted, but happy and among friends — something they never knew was possible.

The message was aglow with joy, gratitude, and perhaps most importantly, comfort.

"I can’t believe it was real," they effused. "I got to be myself and live the way I wanted."

via Chewy

Adorable Dexter and his new chew toy. Thanks Chewy Claus.

True

Every holiday season, millions of kids send letters asking for everything from a new bike to a pony. Some even make altruistic requests such as peace on Earth or helping struggling families around the holidays.

But wouldn’t the holiday season be even more magical if our pets had their wishes granted, too? That’s why Chewy Claus is stepping up to spread holiday cheer to America’s pets.

Does your dog dream of a month’s supply of treats or chew toys? Would your cat love a new tree complete with a stylish condo? How about giving your betta fish some fresh decor that’ll really tie its tank together?

Or do your pets need something more than mere creature comforts such as life-saving surgery?

Keep ReadingShow less
Photo by Jeremy Wong on Unsplash

Teen raises $186,000 to help Walmart worker retire.

In America, many people have to work well past the age of retirement to make ends meet. While some of these people choose to work past retirement age because it keeps them active, some older people, like Nola Carpenter, 81, work out of necessity.

Carpenter has been working at Walmart for 20 years, way beyond most people's retirement age just so that she can afford to continue to pay her mortgage. When 19-year-old Devan Bonagura saw the woman looking tired in the break room of the store, he posted a video to his TikTok of Carpenter with a text overlay that said, "Life shouldn't b this hard..." complete with a sad face emoji.

In the video, Carpenter is sitting at a small table looking down and appearing to be exhausted. The caption of the video reads ":/ I feel bad." Turns out, a lot of other people did too, and encouraged the teen to start a GoFundMe, which has since completed.

Keep ReadingShow less

Philadelphia is taking the city back to the past.

Remember when calling your parents, a tow truck or a friend when you were out and about meant digging in your pocket for a quarter to make a pay phone call? Well, a Philadelphia-based collective, PhilTel, is jumping into the past with a modern twist, by installing free-to-use pay phones throughout the city.

Of course, the pay phones that many of us grew up were removed from public places years ago. There no longer seemed to be a need for them when most people had a phone in their pocket or in their hand. But it's easy to forget that not everyone has or wants that luxury. For some people, staying that connected all the time can be too much and for others, it's simply financially impossible to own a cell phone.

Keep ReadingShow less

This article originally appeared on 07.22.21


As if a Canada goose named Arnold isn't endearing enough, his partner who came looking for him when he was injured is warming hearts and having us root for this sweet feathered couple.

Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Massachusetts shared the story on its Facebook page, in what they called "a first" for their animal hospital.


Keep ReadingShow less
popular

Think all cats are the same? These pictures prove they each have their own personality

Photographer Nils Jacobi shows how cats aren't nearly as aloof as one might think.

All images used with Nils Jacobi's permission. @furryfritz/Instagram

Catographer purrfectly captures cats' purrsonalities.

People often mistakingly attribute a singular personality to cats—usually the words "aloof" or "snobby" are used to describe them. At best, they might be given the "evil genius" label. But in actuality, no two cats are alike. Each has their own distinct ways of being, whether that’s silly, sophisticated, affectionate, downright diabolical or somewhere in between.

This photographer has the pictures to prove it.

Nils Jacobi, better known online as furryfritz, the catographer, has photographed literally thousands upon thousands of cats—from Maine coons who look like they should be in a perfume ad to tabbies in full-on derp mode.
Keep ReadingShow less