“BYOA means to bring your own ally — it’s a joke on bring your own beer.” Queer Alliance President Amber McKeough said, smiling. “The Coming Out Dance can be a pretty intimidating name, but we want this event to be fun and have people feel comfortable. So, BYOA!”
As we talk, Drake’s “0 to 100” is blasting from the inside of The Barn as students dance and cheer amongst each other. The barn’s usual casual dining setting turned into a mini-dance floor as the tables were pushed to the side, bright flashing lights shining in different patterns across the room. The DJ stood on the stage, occasionally yelling into his mic, “Are you all having a good time?” The dancers screamed in response.
I, on the other hand, am part of the smaller groups that were sitting outside on the tables, talking over the music and enjoying the free food and company. Attendees were greeted with a free food coupon upon entry, along with a complimentary soda and Rocky Horror Picture Show-themed buttons that simply state, “The Coming Out Dance 2015.” Upon entering The Barn, attendees had to walk past various Rocky Horror Show-themed posters that led to the cashier or to the dance floor.
The Coming Out Dance, as McKeough explained, is an annual event hosted by UCR’s Queer Alliance in order to welcome students to the LGBT community on campus and build a sense of community. Usually taking place in fall quarter, The Coming Out Dance is a free event, where students and their friends can participate in creating an expressive and safe environment to feel comfortable and celebrate LGBT pride. Starting as a project by the Queer Alliance to make the UCR LGBT community feel welcomed to the school year, the dance is now in its sixth year with the help of Highlander Empowerment Funds and the organization plans to keep it a free annual tradition of music, good food and even better company.
Since the event usually takes place around Halloween every year, there is much encouragement for students to show up in costumes and to take pictures at the free photo booth inside The Barn. Among the attendees, there is a blue-haired Princess Anna from Frozen, a Freddy Krueger and also a human pinata by the president herself.
After our conversation, I sat alone on the tables outside of The Barn, and watched Nancy Jean Tubbs, the director the UCR LGBT Resource Center, greet guests with a friendly smile. I spent the rest of the dance in peace, with my one-third-pound angus chuck burger that only cost 99 cents due to the food coupon I received. Occasionally, I caught snippets of conversations happening around me, whether it be a group of friends dragging each other to the dance floor or a girl sitting at a table beside me saying, “I mean, free food? What more can you ask for?”
The attendance of the dance itself was humble, but this didn’t stop guests from dancing on the open floor, cheering excitedly or having a nice chat with their buddies over discounted campus food. The Coming Out Dance’s comfortable and lively atmosphere was what made everyone feel welcomed.
Just as I left, I caught a glimpse of McKeough from inside of The Barn, dancing with her friends with candies swinging from the sides of her human pinata costume. I didn’t see a single person without a smile on their face.