HAYWARD -- Three city librarians teamed up with about a dozen teenagers in 2011 to produce a documentary on how Hayward came to have a gay prom, and now their work is getting recognition at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.
"Now We Can Dance: The Story of the Hayward Gay Prom" looks back at the first prom in 1995 and how the annual dance continues to have a role in the community. Made with the help of professional film advisers, the film also includes footage from the prom in 2011, the year the documentary was filmed, said Sally Thomas, one of the librarians.
The film will be screened before this year's prom on Saturday.
"We wanted to tell the story of how this started in Hayward and how it's persisted for so many years," Thomas said. "It's interesting how many people came together: the mayor, the council, the police and teachers. It wasn't a done deal; there was dissent. There was a lot of debate."
The Lambda Gay Prom is held every June in Hayward and is believed to be one of the oldest continuously running gay proms, said Rochelle Collins, program director for the nonprofit drug and alcohol prevention agency Project Eden/Horizon Services, sponsor of the prom.
"We get a lot of youth from all over Bay Area and Northern California, and Santa Cruz and Monterey, even Las Vegas," she said. About 300 young people ages 14 to 20 are expected this year.
The prom was an outgrowth of Project Eden's Lambda Youth Project, which provides alcohol and drug abuse counseling to many LGBT youth, she said. The project also trains young gay people for a speakers' bureau in which they talk to groups about their experiences.
As in previous years, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band will strike up the music at this year's prom every time an arriving prom-goer walks down the red carpet to enter the dance.
For the first time, the prom will have representatives from Castro Valley Pride, a one-day festival started in 2011 by a group of high school students, Collins said. This year's Castro Valley Pride will be held July 13 in Castro Valley High's parking lot.
The librarians were thrilled when they learned in May that the documentary would be screened at the San Francisco film festival, Thomas said. "It was very exciting to get that acknowledgment," she said.
The documentary grew out of an earlier project in which Hayward librarians created three- to five-minute digital stories about life in California.
One of the interviews Thomas did was with Dana Johnson, who was a counselor at Project Eden and one of the organizers of the Hayward gay prom, who gave a short history of the dance. The librarians agreed "this was a story that was unique to Hayward and should be told in a more in-depth way," Thomas said.
The librarians received a $10,000 grant from Cal Humanities and financial help from the Friends of the Library for the documentary.
"It's not just a product we as librarians and library staff did. We had a great team of teens who went to the prom, who did interviews, who helped put the film together," Thomas said.
The teenagers interviewed early prom-goers, organizers and local officials for the 30-minute documentary. The film shows the excitement that occurs around any prom, but also the protesters who showed up, many with hateful messages on signs. It also features counter-protesters who supported the young people.
The documentary premiered in December at the City Hall council chamber, which was filled to capacity. Librarian Laurie Willis, who was project manager and director of film, is working on getting a distribution copy of the documentary for schools, youth groups and other organizations.
In 1995, the prom provided a safe place for gay youth, Thomas said. "Either people didn't feel comfortable inviting their same-sex date to a regular prom or it wasn't allowed," she said. "A lot has changed, but a lot hasn't changed. You wouldn't think it would be so much of an issue these days, but it still is."
The story of the Hayward Gay Prom'
San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival
When: 4 p.m. June 23
Where: Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St.
Also: 5 p.m. Saturday, Chabot College. $5
Hayward gay Prom
7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Chabot College, 25555 Hesperian Blvd.
Tickets: $25; sold at the door