LA’s LGBTQ+ retirees get a second shot at prom in new PBS documentary

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In PBS’ new documentary “Senior Prom,” LGBTQ+ senior citizens take back the prom night they never had.⁣⁣ The film centers around residents of the Triangle Square Senior Housing in Hollywood, one of the oldest queer senior centers in the country. 

“Beyond the experience of the prom, which is something that most people didn't get to have, I learned that the stories of the people were actually the more fulfilling documentary throughline,” says Luisa Conlon, who directed the film. “Most of these stories were tied very heavily to the gay rights movement, to people's individual trials, so I wanted to combine those two elements.”

“Where I grew up on the Bible Belt in Indiana, it was unheard of. Two women weren’t going to the prom,” says Sheah Prince Eternal with her date Koko Mathis. Film still courtesy of Luisa Conlon.

“[The cops] seemed to know where all the gay kids were. I was about 17 the first time they arrested me. It was illegal to wear mens’ clothing. I went to jail for that at least eight, nine times,” says Nancy Valverde. Film still courtesy of Luisa Conlon.

Interspersed between dancing, kissing, and laughing, several seniors reflect on how far they’ve come. Father Robert Clement, an openly gay clergyman and founder of the first LGBTQ+ church in New York, recalls the birth of the gay rights movement, and Nancy Valverde, a Chicana lesbian from East LA, recounts getting arrested for “masquerading” in “men’s” clothing.

“It's thanks to people like Nancy that we are able to do things like wear trousers, which I think on a day-to-day basis, we take for granted,” says Conlon. “Nancy is a great example of so many of these quiet heroes among us in LA.”