On June 24, a warm Saturday evening in the waning days of Pride month, more than 300 queer folks and allies attended the OUTMemphis Queer Prom at Crosstown Concourse.   

Celebrating Pride month is a tradition that emerged after the 1969 Stonewall riots, a turning point for the modern queer civil rights movement given to us by elders who fought to be. The police launched discriminatory and violent raids on gay bars in New York City for decades until one evening when the patrons at the Stonewall Inn fought back

Days of fighting followed the riot against the harassment that a community would no longer bear. The first pride parade would take place a year later in Greenwich Village on the first anniversary of the riots. 

“We have to come out into the open and stop being ashamed,” Michael Brown, founder of the Gay Liberation Front, told The New York Times. “This march is an affirmation and declaration of our new pride.”

State politicians have shamelessly maneuvered to try and keep LGBTQIA+ folks from our shared freedom and our existence (but the fight continues.) 

Pride is about queer survival. And when threats are abundant, it’s important to mark our joy, our freedom during the fight. 

MLK50 contributing photographer Paige Andersen attended the Queer Prom to provide this visual essay on belonging, community and unapologetic tenderness.

LEFT: A group of friends singing and dancing while making their way across the courtyard to Queer Prom pause to pose for the photographer. RIGHT: The prom marked the first Pride event for Eli (right wrist.) Their excitement fueled them to make plenty of colorful hand-woven bracelets as an offering to new friends.

“They had an excitement about getting to the party,” Andersen said of their friends scurrying up the stairs to the dance floor at Crosstown Concourse. 

LEFT: Ann Knight (right) is a former Memphian who traveled to the prom from Mississippi to celebrate with her friends. “We could have never imagined something like this,” she said while remembering her years in Memphis under the weight of the AIDS crisis. RIGHT: Jose Leon stands tall for a portrait in glitter heels and a crisp suit.

LEFT: A teddy bear keychain on a prom goers purse rocks a bondage look. RIGHT: Hannah Gardner’s fringe sparkled.

DJ Space Age’s choice to spin Beyonce’s “Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)” had folks moving on the dance floor.

LEFT: An embrace on the edge of the dance floor. RIGHT: Drag queens from the Friends of George’s theater group, Allysun Wunderland and Camille Collins, hang out during the celebration. The group was at the center of a lawsuit against this year’s attempted drag ban.

Moments on the dance floor as the night began to wind down not only continued feeling joyful to Andersen, but also, importantly, “safe.”

Tyler and Sierra share a dance. Sierra’s look for the evening was a nod to Princess Tiana elegance, poofy gown and all.  

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