Over 600 Teens Attend NYPL’s Annual Anti-Prom—A Night of Glitter, Fashion, & Acceptance

NYPL has hosted an alternative prom for teens in New York City for ever 14 years. The young adult programming manager give highlights from this year's festive, inclusive event, which took place on June 8.

A building known for austere beauty transformed into a buzzing dance floor, filled with sweaty people, smiling faces, and lots of glitter. For over 14 years, the New York Public Library has hosted Anti-Prom, an alternative prom for teens in New York City. The idea came about when a group of young adult librarians were reflecting on their own terrible experiences at prom and realized they could create a program to offer young people a chance to be themselves in a safe space. Though it’s open to everyone, the event caters to LGBTQ+ teens who might not be able to attend their own proms because of their sexual identity, gender expression, or cost. This year’s Anti-Prom was stellar. Over 600 teens joined us on June 8 for our annual event.

The young adult programming team works with a group of students from the High School of Fashion Industries in New York City who choose the theme in September and then design and construct garments inspired by that theme. Guided by their teacher, the cheerful and endlessly resourceful Ionia Cisse, the students put in hours of work, and the garments did not disappoint. Taking inspiration from shells, coral, pearls, and, as always, mermaids, the 15 students and their models shone in the fashion show portion of the evening. The teens themselves were the stars, some in full drag and others showing off their “Under the Sea”–themed outfits. The room was lit with purples and blues, so while the line at the photo booth never ceased, the ambiance was perfect for glam selfies. We created a Snapchat Filter for the night’s festivities. This year we invited community partners to participate. BeWell, health education and wellness support program developed by Columbia University’s Harlem Health Promotion Center, and Planned Parenthood tabled and provided information, buttons, and condoms for the teens. North Shore Animal League, a regular partner of NYPL, brought two adoptable puppies that were stationed in one of the quiet rooms, where teens could color or regroup away from the music. At the end of the night, we gave out hundreds of free books, many of which feature LGBTQ+ characters. Our BookOps team—the crew responsible for purchasing all the books for Brooklyn Public Library and NYPL— generously donated a lot of the materials, prioritizing inclusivity, diversity, and #OwnVoices writers.

Some of the NYPL staff who helped organize the event: From l. to r. Lauren Bradley, Katrina Ortega, Emily Jacobson, Katie Loucks, Amanda Pagan, Crystal Chen, Susen Shi, Kate Fais, Nicola McDonald, Mike Rios, and Lesley Loor.

Anti-Prom wouldn’t be possible without the YA staff, who bring their energy, silliness, and warmth to the space. Over 50 staff members helped work the event. Some were stationed on the fifth avenue steps welcoming teens, others circulated through the dance floor, while others collected book reviews as part of our Summer Reading initiative. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Anti-Prom means a lot to me on a personal level, but more important, it’s the event I am most proud of as a librarian. Young adult librarianship is special because teens themselves are special, and the Library should always be a place for them to be themselves, to see themselves, and to feel seen. Caitlyn Colman-McGaw is manager of young adult programming at New York Public Library.  

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