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RACINE — Racine may be known for having the world’s largest prom, a single event for all of the city’s high schools. But for some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, that might not be an option.

Bullying can be a real issue for members of the LGBT community, said Ronnie Oates, 18, who attended Park High School and now attends Gateway Technical College. That’s one of the reasons why Oates is so thankful for the Equality Prom, which the Racine-based LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin has sponsored for four years. This year’s event was held Saturday night at Memorial Hall.

“It’s an equality prom, which means everyone — no matter who you are, what you look like or what you believe — you’re accepted, welcomed with open arms, and I think that’s the main reason I decided to come,” said Sarah Edwards, 16, of Moline, Illinois, who attended with her girlfriend, Darian Glass, 16, a sophomore, at Case High School.

“It’s definitely more easy to be yourself here because no one is going to look at you and hate you for who you are. They’re going to look at you and say, ‘yeah, come join the party.’ Here everyone is accepting and it’s a safe place,” said Edwards, who formerly lived in Racine.

As many as 300 teens from throughout southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois were expected to attend the event, which included entertainment (including a drag show), snacks and soft drinks in many of the colors of the rainbow.

“It’s one of our major events of the year and it’s one of the ways we reach out to high school kids and make sure they feel welcome and important in their community,” said Len Iaquinta, president of the board of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin.

“You know, Memorial Hall is really an appropriate place for us to be. There’s a quote above the stage from Lincoln, the Gettysburg address I believe it is, and it talks about this nation being reborn in freedom again and again. And that’s so appropriate tonight because we have the freedom of these kids to be out with themselves and their friends and being who they want to be,” said Iaquinta, a writing consultant from Kenosha. “It’s a freedom that was denied for most from my generation, so it makes us very proud about what we’re doing.”

Emily Vance Welsh of Racine, the mom of prom attendee Isabelle Truckey, said the Equality Prom is important for the community, the kids and for awareness.

“Everyone’s having a great time. My daughter and her girlfriend can come and hold hands and just feel very included,” Vance Walsh said.

Many in attendance at Saturday’s event gave praise to Ida Love, the executive director of the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin, who was being pulled in many directions as she coordinated the Equality Prom.

“She puts so much work into it. I’ve never seen someone work so hard to do something. She put her heart into this and it turned out beautiful,” said Oates.

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