Hanging in the Balance
Portraits from the BAGLY Prom

Zoe Perry-Wood
Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas
Achival Pigement Prints, sized 19x13, 24x17 & 36x24

This work is the result of a ten-year project photographing the Boston Alliance of Gay & Lesbian Youth (BAGLY) Prom. BAGLY provides a safe haven for youth who are often, even in these progressive times, outsiders in their own youth culture and who may not yet have a foothold in adult gay culture. The yearly BAGLY Prom fills the hole left when these youth are not allowed to attend, or don’t feel a sense of belonging at the traditional youth proms in their own high schools.

The Prom, held in Boston for thirty-five years, flies under mainstream radar, yet thrives within gay youth subculture. Attendance can reach more than 1000 youth from Massachusetts and neighboring states. As a social documentary photographer, I have learned the importance of capturing unique groups of people, at particular times, in particular places. This current period represents an important moment in social history when a thirty-five year tradition continues to play a vital role, while the lives of these youth hang in the balance between imminent, broad social acceptance and historical, outright discrimination and oppression. This project is based in the hopeful idea that one-day events like this will be held with the purpose of pure community building rather than out of necessity.

I initially photographed these events using a street style of photography, which requires a certain emotional distance, and a stealth-like approach that does not lend itself to using flash in a dark club-like atmosphere. While some of those photographs are successful as images of the culture the youth are creating together, I was often fighting their tendency to perform or play in front of the camera. But most importantly, I felt a yearning to have more contact with the youth, and know them better. I also considered that if this was their prom, they too, like other youth attending Prom every spring, deserved to have “Prom Portraits.” To this end, I moved to using a portable studio setup and began make portraits for the youth.

In my “day job” as a school psychologist I have witnessed the challenges faced by youth on the margins of conventional youth culture. In both my psychology work and my art, I feel strongly about supporting the efforts of youth to find themselves and express who they are. Although they may not dwell in the mainstream of the larger culture, these youth are not exotic subject matter. They are our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and students in the classrooms of our high schools and colleges. It is up to us, as adults to not only support youth self-expression, but to celebrate their courage, imagination and exuberance. At the same time, we open ourselves up to re-experiencing a time of life that many of us found very challenging and painful. It is my hope that this work will provide a transformative experience for both observers and subjects alike.



1. the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions. Governments, private organizations and individuals may engage in censorship. When an individual such as an author or other creator engages in censorship of their own works or speech, it is called self-censorship.

A Response to Attempted Censorship of an Exhibition of Selected Images from the BAGLY Prom Series at The Gallery@First Parish Lexington

The people in these portraits are LGBTQ and Questioning Youth attending their Prom. They are, in fact, between the ages of 15-21. They often still live at home with their parents, and they live in New England, some live in Lexington, Concord and other nearby towns. They are the older brothers and sisters of the very children that some people seem so worried about, that some feel would somehow be injured or harmed by seeing these images. Young children live in the same home with these teens everyday. They are not “Others” who should be seen as offensive or inappropriate to children. Many young children readily talk about the fact that their older brother or sister is gay or trans. It is natural and normal to them, and so much easier for them than for us older folks who wear the damage of living through decade after decade of a deeply homophobic society. In addition, some of the youth in this body of work are, in fact, teenage children in families who have been members of the First Parish congregation and religious education program. They are being raised here in Lexington, in our schools and in this church.

I am proud that our families and our religious education programs are helping our youth to be open and strong enough to question the binding gender roles that society hands them. Of course, as youth do, they will push us beyond where we are comfortable - that is their role. It has always been the role of the younger generation to push the entire society in the areas where we are stuck, and it always will be. As a UU church it is so very important that we follow through with supporting them and creating safe spaces for them to be themselves and that we examine and question our own discomfort. I am pleased that this project has made a strong enough impact to ignite the kind of conversations that we obviously need to be having and I thank the people who raised their concerns and gave this community an opportunity to find a voice and stand up for these youth and their images. I am happy to speak more about my work and encourage open dialogue about these issues.