By SARAH KLEPNER
About 100 high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and their straight allies gathered for a dance party in the cafeteria at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional on Friday night.
It was the third annual Gayla!, a prom-like event organized by Make It Better for Youth, a consortium which includes Monmouth County high schools, Jersey Shore PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), the county library system, the Two River Theater, and the Monmouth County Arts Council.
“What’s great about this is that you don’t go in feeling pressured to fit into any prom stereotype,” said Ellie Halfacre, RFH senior, member of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and event organizer. “It’s not about what sexuality you are, it’s about being with people who accept you no matter what.
“Everyone’s here to have fun and just be themselves,” she said, adding that many friendships had grown out of the prior two Gayla gatherings.
The kids, from 15 area high schools, were definitely having fun conga lines were breaking out all over the dance floor but emotions were close to the surface too.
Best friends Rosy Diasio and Nora Molnar spoke passionately about the fight for gay rights and against conformity.
“Stop all the hate,” Diasio said. “I don’t get why people have to judge.”
Molnar chimed in, “I wish people could know how it feels. I feel so alone sometimes. Stop putting a line between people.” They told redbankgreen they write poetry together to address these challenges.
Kate Okeson, RFH art teacher and co-founder of Make It Better for Youth, echoed this sentiment, as she explained her vision for the event, which is to create a space for kids that not only allows for alternative sexuality but for coming out “as exactly who they are, not out of the closet into a pre-determined role or image of a gay kid…. This is not Bud Lite-sponsored gay pride.”
Okeson emphasized the roles of caring adults who were present from a range of backgrounds, including law enforcement (Gay Officers Action League) and a local congregation (Unitarian Universalist), as well as the Shrewsbury chapter of PFLAG.
“Twenty-five percent of the people here are adults in support of the kids,” she said.
Nora Molnar wrote a note on the spot to youth being bullied to the point of contemplating suicide, advising “Don’t be afraid and don’t be shy. Although you always feel alone, you never really are. People have felt just like you. I felt just like you. Feeling alone isn’t fun, just remember you’re not alone….Love is Love and don’t let people judge love. Keep it strong.”
Ten high schools in the county have formed a Gay-Straight Alliance.