Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

The Theater Offensive’s “Queer Prom” brings together Bostonians to celebrate LGBTQ+ liberation

Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Larios

The Theater Offensive’s latest community-building event brought together some of Boston’s most notable queer activists and performers for a special celebration. On Sunday, Feb. 18, queer Bostonians of all ages came together to celebrate “Queer Prom” at Tenderoni’s in Fenway.

This event marked the latest in a series of successful gatherings for The Theater Offensive (TTO).

For Stetson Marshall, the board chair of TTO, assembling the organization’s first-ever “Queer Prom” was no small feat. It required many “man hours, woman hours, [and] they hours,” to assemble. 

“One of the things that the team has become really good at is organizing, and organizing through challenges,” said Marshall.

Marshall’s decision to join TTO came in large part through his own lived experience as a queer man. They practice storytelling “using the oldest and probably the most powerful platform to have ever existed, which is theater.”

“I wish that there was a Theater Offensive around when I was growing up,” said Marshall. 

The night’s festivities began with a vibrant Beyoncé-inspired performance from the Queer Prom’s host, Candace Persuasian. Persuasian is a well-known performer in Boston, and an all-around transgender icon. In addition to her residencies at Carrie Nation and Jacques Cabaret, Persuasian serves as the Community Relations Specialist for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement. 

“I was a young person once, and for someone who couldn’t quite find their community within home, I was able to find places like BAGLY and The Theater Offensive to find friends and people who had similar stories,” said Persuasian.

Despite her busy schedule, Persuasian contributes much of her time to advancing Boston’s queer community through social advocacy.    

“It’s never about giving back to the community, because the community has always been there,” Persuasian said. “It’s more about contributing to the community now.”

The evening’s festivities were separated between an exclusive 21+ section for older participants and a 13+ dance floor and soft drink bar for younger partygoers. The bar offered custom mocktails and an assortment of fountain drinks with unlimited refills free for all attendees.

Near the all-inclusive bar, DJ TROY Frost lit up the dance floor with an upbeat playlist of modern pop songs, including “Water” by Tyla and “Better Thangs” by Ciara and Summer Walker.

Tenderoni’s, which served as the venue for the “Queer Prom,” is owned by queer celebrity chef Tiffani Faison. The restaurant’s brightly colored walls, disco balls, and chic industrial style reflect Faison’s commitment to creating a beautiful place for people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy themselves. 

“Tenderoni’s has been most gracious in making this happen,” said Marshall. “It’s the perfect venue because it’s already decorated for what TTO would have wanted it to be.”

At 8 p.m., Giselle Byrd, the executive director of The Theater Offensive, presented awards to Letta Neely and Tre’Andre Valentine, commemorating them for their relentless devotion to queer storytelling and expression.

Neely (she/they), a poet and playwright, started with TTO in 2002 when they produced her first play, titled “Hamartia Blues.” When accepting her award, Neely spoke to a younger audience about the importance of celebrating the queer community’s progress but also remembering its painful past. 

“There are so many of us who always wanted to be able to dance freely amongst each other as our full human selves,” said Neely. “The responsibility of us who have some gray hair now is to make sure that the next generation gets to have gray hair too.”

In closing her speech, Neely combined some humor with a clear message about the future: “It is not a given that as gay, bi, trans, queer people that we get to get old, so shoot; I like my look right here.”

Tre’Andre Valentine (he/they) is an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago and the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition’s first BIPOC executive director. He accepted his award with an equally eloquent closing message.

“When you are ablaze and others see that, that is an inspiration for them to also shine brightly. And let me tell you something: there is enough sky for all the stars to shine,” said Valentine.

Byrd spearheaded the creation of the “Queer Prom” by drawing inspiration from her past experiences as a queer youth. She feels honored to work with the team at TTO.

“I have just started as the new executive director, and it has been the absolute dream of my life,” said Byrd. “We need to celebrate our youth and give them that joy and that moment and space to just be free and liberated.” 

The “Queer Prom” celebrated younger community members by including a performance from Avery Selk, a member of the True Colors youth theater troupe. Selk’s poetry touched upon their dream of a decolonized queer republic, where everyone can live as their true selves.

Applications to join the True Colors Performance Troupe are available on TTO’s website as well as information on donating to the greater cause.

Byrd is confident in the future of TTO’s community-building events for the queer community.

 “Let’s keep it real honey; we brought the culture, the culture ain’t going nowhere,” Byrd said.

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