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At This Prom, 'I Won't Be Judged for Who I Am ...'; Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Questioning Youths Get to Be Themselves at Ninth Annual Event

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRISTY WHITEHEAD

Corey Holloway missed out on his high school prom, but he's making up for it now that he's 20 and out of school. Decked in a short white dress with little polka dots on a recent night, his nails were nicely done and his makeup freshly applied.

This time around, he could be himself - women's clothes and all - without fear of being kicked out or scrutinized.

The Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network held its ninth annual youth-alternative prom June 19 at Friday Musicale, 645 Oak St. in Riverside. The nonprofit provides a safe place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youths under 24.

In 1984, the Federal Equal Access Act was passed by Congress and stated that public schools could not bar same-sex couples from school functions. But many gay students find they still face discrimination, and in some cases are still told they are not allowed to go to prom for fear of repercussions.

Mathew Underwood, 19, said he knew a male who got into trouble for dancing with another male at his high school in Georgia. This caused Underwood to avoid his own prom.

The Baymeadows resident said he felt more comfortable at the JASYMN prom, where he could be himself and dance with whomever he wanted regardless of gender and without being judged.

While most of the participants said they felt more accepted in general, they added that discrimination is still there.

Jaron Taylor said he often faces discrimination. He attended the prom dressed in a short black dress, red lipstick and a strand of pearls around his neck.

"I feel more accepted [in today's society], but we still have a long ways to go," he said. "We're not people that have a mental disease or are weird looking. We are people, too. We have feelings."

A Beaches resident who goes by the stage name "Nikki Champagne" and is gay said he also loves to dress and perform as a female. Because of a fear of backlash toward himself and his family, he didn't want to give his real name. …