In theory, teenagers should be able to bring whom they want to prom – but some can’t. Luckily, at least one dance makes sure everyone is welcome.
This week, hundreds of youth flocked to an LGBTQ prom event in Long Island, New York. As the first event of its kind in the U.S. suburbs, the prom has been going on for nearly 20 years.
Nonprofits LGBT Network and Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth host the Annual LGBT Prom. The dance is open to LGBTQ teens and allies.
David Kilmnick, president and CEO of the LGBT Network, explained:
Bullying is still a rampant issue for LGBT youth in our schools and as a result, our kids do not get to experience and enjoy what is a “rite of passage” for all teenagers. It is critical that we continue to have an annual LGBT prom on Long Island, so our young people can bring the date of their choice to the prom and do so feeling safe and with a great sense of Pride.
Offering a deliberately inclusive event is so important, even in the last few years. Scuffles around prom expose the homophobia that teenagers still face.
This spring, an Alabama high school principal forbade a student named Britney from wearing a tuxedo and bringing a female date to prom. He changed his mind only after she reached out to the Southern Poverty Law Center and told him that the First Amendment and Title IX both protected her right to do so.
Racked‘s Nadra Nittle notes the frequency of incidents like these. Some schools simply remain oblivious of students’ rights.
“Too often, schools don’t know the law, flout the law, and don’t have the best interests of LGBTQ students in mind,” Nittle writes. “And they’re counting on students and their families not to fight for their rights.”
A Mississippi high school blocked Kenzie Ellenberger, who’s non-binary, and Mallory Boone from running for prom king and queen this year.
Kim Ellenberger, Kenzie’s mom, told Commercial Appeal:
People say it’s a sin and she’s going go to hell and that’s bullying. We’ve had bullying in school. You expect it from the kids. You don’t expect it from the adults, but it does happen. I want my child to be able to do what everybody’s else child does without having to fight every step of the way.
Even at more accepting schools, many LGBTQ students are still hesitant at traditional proms. According to Refinery29, transgender and gender-nonconforming teen James van Kuilenburg worried that he was going to be attacked when he dressed flamboyantly feminine at prom with his date, Frank.
He made sure that he had his cell phone on him at all times and made a safety plan for his straight friends to step in if anything happened.
As long as LGBTQ students feel unsafe or unable to enjoy their celebratory nights, inclusive proms matter. And, thankfully, Long Island’s isn’t the only one.