Written by Anthony Nget
Asking a girl to a dance is hard. It’s even harder when you yourself are a girl. This wasn’t an issue at the annual Monster Ball though. Held on January 14th, the Ball is a Lady Gaga-themed dance formed to provide a social space for local LGBTQ youth.
“The purpose of [the Monster Ball] is to give LGBTQ youth a safe space to meet one another, to bring their boyfriend or girlfriend, because they might not feel comfortable to bring their partner to a [school] prom or formal,” says MYTE program director Kyle Bullock.
The dance, only in it’s second year of formation, is still growing. Approximately 114 youth attended this year, up about twenty youth from last year. Many came from Long Beach high schools, but some attendees came from Orange County, Compton and Pasadena as well.
The Ball was held at the Gay and Lesbian Center of Greater Long Beach in conjunction with its Mentoring Youth Through Empowerment (MYTE) program. The program, in its sixth year of formation, is a program dedicated to providing a safe, affirmative environment for peer interaction. Youth are paired with members of the community that serve as mentors and positive roles models during a time that can be very difficult for LGBT youth.
“It changes people,” says MYTE youth Maria Hernandez when asked about the program. “People are free to express themselves here,” adds fellow MYTE youth Luis Benitez.
“This is the only dedicated LGBT youth space in greater Long Beach. Our board is very committed to getting resources for these kids and creating a space for them to socialize. [We want them to] know they are welcome,” says Bullock.
The Ball consisted of many events aside from being a typical dance. There were multiple lounge areas filled with a variety of games, a professional photographer, a catered buffet, as well a raffle of prizes donated by the community. Free HIV testing was also offered.
“It’s important to get these kids in the mindset of getting regularly tested,” says Bullock.
The Ball also had special guests performances. A variety of drag performers attended in Lady Gaga-related costumes and performed numbers in keeping with the theme of the night. One of the performers, Delta Work, was even a contestant on the popular television show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The only requirement for those that attended were that they simply attend high school. Many of those who attended did not even identify as LGBTQ. It was not a requirement to attend, nor was it an issue.
“Everyone blended. The dance was open to everyone in every way,” says Bullock.
In addition to providing an inclusive social environment for youth, the dance was an outlet to inform people about the various programs that MYTE offers. In the works is the creation of an LGBT youth forum geared towards high school students trying to create a gay straight alliance at their school. Its intent is to create a place to inform, network, and socialize various youth and allow for them to discover what it takes to create a successful gay straight alliance at their schools. The program will be held once a month and will allow for the youth that have met at the dance to further connect and create a community of LGBTQ youth.
“It’s definitely better than when I was a teen. I’ve heard older men and women say it’s easier for them. We’re very fortunate that we live in a country, state, and city that is so liberal. However there are individuals, famil[ies], politicians, even friends that aren’t always supportive. The climate is getting better. That’s why MYTE is important. That’s why any space [for LGBTQ youth] is important,” says Bullock.