A Florida church opened its doors to the LGBT community after the Storybook Pride Prom for LGBT teens in Jacksonville was canceled due to security concerns from anti-LGBT activists.
Over a hundred local students had signed up to attend the Storybook Pride Prom at the Willowbranch Public Library.
The announcement for the prom for LGBT+ teens 14-18-years-old read, “To celebrate National Pride Month, LGBTQ teens are invited to create their own ‘happily ever after’ at The Storybook Pride Prom! Come dressed inspired by your favorite book character — casual, formal, or in drag — whatever makes you feel great. Be you!”
But the event quickly came under attack from anti-LGBT activist Elizabeth Johnston, who shared the library’s phone number on her Facebook page and urged her followers to “express your disgust that this perversion is taking place in a taxpayer-funded library!”
Johnston goes by the online persona “Activist Mommy” and is best known for her YouTube tirades against LGBTQ people, feminists, and Muslims.
“For all the sensitive stomachs out there, I apologize for the graphic pictures,” she added in her Facebook post along with photos of the drag queens who were slated to appear at the prom. “I selected milder ones for you. If these perverts are going to come after children, I have to expose it! I know it ain’t pretty!”
The library ultimately canceled the prom last week amid fears for the teens’ “safety.”
When leaders of the Buckman Bridge Unitarian Universalist Church in Jacksonville heard about the ordeal, they stepped in and decided to hold the prom on Friday, the same night as the original event at the neighborhood’s library.
“It was the right thing to do,” Grace Repass, the church’s past president, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “The LGBTQIA+ youth in our community deserve to have their prom and we wanted to support them.”
Repass said the decision to host the prom was swift and unanimously supported by the church’s board, and she said the event featured “happy teens, grateful parents, and a lot of community support.”
“We see our church as a safe place for people who are figuring out who they are,” she said. “Our Unitarian Universalist values call us to respect the inherent worth and dignity of every person. So, it’s a matter of integrity — to act in alignment with who we say we are.”
Beatrice Palmer, who hosted the event, told local news outlet News4Jax: “There were absolutely no causes for concern and no religious hate group protesters in attendance. The inside was so positive and electric. Everyone was smiling. Lots of Moms were crying happy tears. There were kids dancing, laughing and socializing as if nothing had even happened that week.”
“Prom was a success. The kids were dancing and laughing and making new friends. Heard from proud moms that some of the youth had never met another gay person their age before and this event helped them make friends,” Palmer added.
About 50 volunteers, LGBT veterans, private security and the Jacksonville sheriff’s office kept the teens safe during the event, News4Jax reported.
Michelle Leipuner, a parent to a 14-year-old son who is gay and a 17-year-old daughter who is transgender, said the library’s cancellation felt intensely personal to her. She had been excited for her son to attend the prom because it presented an “opportunity for him to go and meet people like him, different from him.” She called its cancellation a “slap in the face,” reports the Washington Post.
She praised the church’s last-minute intervention because it gave her son the opportunity to celebrate pride with his fellow LGBT teens.
“He was the belle of the ball,” she said. “He had a gorgeous gold dress on. He was beautiful.”