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Mel Weiss was filled with dread as the high school boy approached. He didn’t want anyone to know he was gay, so he brought a girl on his date.

“It was a time when people didn’t go out,” Weiss, now 88, said. “I just felt uncomfortable.”

Prom night certainly wasn’t the formative experience she thought it would be.

But Weiss and hundreds of other gay seniors recently got a chance to relive prom as their true selves.

Last week, the Los Angeles LGBT Center hosted its 27th annual Senior Prom, inviting members of the LGBTQ+ community over the age of 50 to celebrate being gay — many of whom were shy of adolescence.

“A lot of our older adults grew up in an era where it was really hard to get out. This was before gay marriage was possible,” said Kiera Pollack, director of senior services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

The June 28 event capped off Pride Month — which can sometimes be difficult for seniors to attend.

“A lot of Pride celebrations aren’t necessarily the greatest for older people to reach and engage with,” Pollack said, noting that Pride parades can be crowded and physically demanding. “It’s really important for them to feel like they can still celebrate being part of the community.”

This year, more than 300 seniors donned their prom dresses and gathered at the Los Angeles Zoo for dinner and dancing. Prom – sponsored Angel City Soccer Club and Charlotte’s Web — is free and includes transportation, as well as help buying clothes for seniors who can’t afford it. Most of the servants are between 60 and 80 years old.

Guests can bring a date if they want, though many people — including Weiss — choose to come alone and mingle. Pollack said some people meet new romantic partners at prom.

“We had a lot of people who were very happy to be there and to be able to connect with each other,” Pollack said, noting that many of the seniors were not completely excluded in all aspects of their lives. “I saw a number of people being able to just be themselves and kiss their partners and dance and feel connected … it was just beautiful.”

The seniors said they felt the love in the room.

“We felt really good,” said Weiss, who has attended several high-profile proms over the years. lives in Triangle Square Apartments for SeniorsIt offers affordable housing to LGBTQ+ seniors and is owned and operated by the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Weiss grew up in an orthodox Jewish family and came out only 20 years ago. Before that, “I met my family and a few friends, but I wasn’t really open to everyone,” she said.

Meeting other gay seniors, Weiss said, helped him feel more comfortable in his own skin. Socializing at senior prom is a highlight for her every year.

“It’s always a lot of fun,” she said. “We all felt very happy when we left.”

Weiss was crowned “monarch” along with two other contestants – a play on the concept of prom king and queen. Crowns are given to the three oldest people there.

“We want to celebrate people as they age,” Pollack said.

Andre Simpson said he didn’t expect to get a second chance when he attended prom, but he’s glad he did. He said that the night was memorable and meaningful.

“Seeing all the love, couples kissing and friends meeting and celebrating who you are,” said Simpson, 67.

About 50 years ago, he didn’t want to go to high school graduation, but he went to “fit in.” “It wasn’t fun.”

“I just felt social pressure,” said Simpson, who took one of her classmates to prom. “I really didn’t want to go with a girl.”

Although Simpson’s high school graduation wasn’t what she had hoped for, she said she made up for it by attending the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s senior prom.

“It’s an inoculation against past hurts, past hurts,” he said. “Many elders in the LGBTQ community survived and still have happy souls. They are still cheerful inside. They are not destroyed by the disappointments of life.”

Connecting with other seniors in the LGBTQ community is “really a healing process,” Simpson said, adding that she intends to continue going to prom for years to come.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be in a place where you’re completely accepted for who you are,” she said.