No One Wants Teenage Lesbians To Go To Prom Ever

We’re calling this one now: this generation will be known as the Generation of Gay Proms. Constance McMillen will go down in history as ushering in an era of national controversy over tiaras and limo rentals.

This week our gaze turns to Minnesota, where there is not technically a prom, but instead “Snow Days,” basically a winter formal. Two lesbians were successfully voted as Snow Days royalty, only to have their high school suddenly change the protocol so that they couldn’t walk into the coronation together like a couple. Now everyone on “prom” court is required to walk in singly instead of two by two as has been done at Champlin Park High School, because the school administration feels that “this decision is more respectful for all students.” Specifically, the [presumable majority of] students who elected them to that position in the first place. The exact wording of the school district, in an email sent to the staff:

There have been some rumors about our upcoming Snow Days Pep Fest on Monday. Let me provide you with accurate information. Our goal is to make the event as positive for everyone involved – our students, members of Snow Days royalty, our staff and parents. There is some concern that we will not let members of royalty walk as couples during the coronation ceremony. Please remember that students were nominated as individuals, not as couples – therefore we will present them to you and honor them as individuals during the Pep Fest. This has been a year with some changes to CPHS traditions, so as we reviewed Snow Days, we decided this was a better plan that honors and respects every student.

If we were to, hypothetically, devise a patterned analysis of schools who really really don’t want queer kids to turn school dances gay, based on what we’ve seen so far, it seems like it would look something like this:

+ culture of homophobia and bullying (Constance was bullied and ostracized by her peers, the Champlin Park High School had an incident where it took down posters advertising an LGBT counseling hotline because parents feared it might “indoctrinate” students)

+ reaction clearly based on discrimination and paranoia w/r/t gay people, but advertised as longstanding school policy

+ punishing all students because of the few gay ones, inciting resentment and discord

+ refusing to speak with or respond to the students’ or their families’ concerns, and instead having to be dealt with through major lawsuits

+ huge amounts of media coverage, due to America’s bizarre obsession with prom, ultimately resulting in terrible press for the school and damage and embarrassment to the kids involved (see a local news story on the decision with video)

Champlin Park is perhaps a little more extreme than the Itawamba district where Constance McMillen’s prom controversy occurred; even before this case, it’s had a “neutrality policy” in place that bars any discussion of queer topics in the classroom, and has had more than nine suicides in the entire district in the past 18 months. It’s unclear (as it always is with suicide) what the underlying cause was, but some LGBT advocates have blamed homophobic bullying. I don’t know whether it makes it worse or better that, since these two girls were voted by their classmates, the brunt of the homophobia and gay panic seems to be on the shoulders of the administration. It’s heartening w/r/t our youth, but sickening to think that adults would be so steeped in their own bigotry that they would hurt the children that they’re supposed to be caring for. In any case, Champlin Park does fit the profile in this regard: they’re going to be taken to court by The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Faegre & Benson, LLP if they don’t change their minds. The letter sent by the SPLC to the school district tells a slightly different story that’s not about “respecting all students:”

In this case, it was known to staff organizers and school administrators that Desiree and Sarah intended to walk together in order to make a statement about their relationship and their sexual orientation. They told the school officials that two of their male friends on the court had agreed to walk together, so no student would have to walk alone. Nevertheless, CPHS told Desiree and Sarah they could not walk together, solely because both girls are of the same sex. When Desiree and Sarah persisted in their request, CPHS responded by informing them on Thursday, January 27, 2011, that it would cancel the traditional processional part of the assembly entirely and the Pep Fest and Coronation would begin with the student royalty already seated… We further request that the District make clear to Principal George and to all District staff that it is unlawful and a violation of the First Amendment for schools to censor student expression of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

So far we have no public statement from these girls or their families, and if the school district has indeed changed their decision to the satisfaction of the SPLC by the appointed time, we haven’t heard about it. Their official position is now that no one will be walking at all; the entire royal court will instead be seated for the duration of the ceremony, which still seems like an obviously discriminatory situation which  works for no one. So it looks like another high-profile prom court case is on the horizon, another chance for a publicly funded American institution to redeem itself but probably fall short, and another opportunity for the rest of us to shake our heads and wonder how we live like this.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1090 articles for us.

39 Comments

  1. As a former student at Champlin Park there are a few corrections I feel you need to make:
    1. It’s not prom, it’s just the winter dance.
    2. They are now not walking at all, but just going to be sitting on the stage at the start.
    3. The suicides occurred district wide, NOT JUST CHAMPLIN PARK.
    4.

  2. While this is a serious and sad subject, your title made me laugh out loud.

    I can already see the far into the future American history textbook insert about the gay rights movement and the prom controversies. Could it be our school integration?

      • I feel you, even though I’m in a different situation. I’m out to my friends and they are all very supportive; I was outed by an Individual-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named to my parents and they kicked me out, brought me back in under condition I would go to “conversion therapy”/consent to be prayed over weekly by church elders, and at this point I’m pretty much despairing of being able to GO to prom- much less with a girl. Maybe if I fake having a male date… what do you think you’re going to do?

        • Oh girl. That is rough my friend. I hope you’re holding up alright. If you want to talk/rant you can email me at j_cush13 at yahoo dot com

          Topic turned to prom dates when I was at dinner tonight with friends; my friend made a male suggestion for me to which I responded a flat out no, we’ll see where things go from here…

    • male best friend anyone? I’m fortunate to have one, and unfortunate to not have a girlfriend.. therefore, everything seems to work out. go with who makes you happy, who you’ll have a good time with. nothing else really matters.. well, as long as your high school isn’t going to ban your date, that is

  3. I go to champion park and I have new info. They are not going to be sitting down to start it but are supposed to walk in one by one or with a parent or favorite teacher.

  4. As one of the two male friends who agreed to walk with another male friend I felt that I would go with whatever the final decision was but supporting the girl’s cause and wish for them to walk together. The fact that they made this stupid decision to have us walk alone with a parent just shows the lengths they would go to not to have the girls walk.

    • THANK YOU! Thank you so much for being a great friend and supporter to these girls and to the LGBT community in general. You are awesome and to be commended and I hope it all works out. Agreed, it sounds like they’re doing everything possible not to let them walk together. So silly.

      Whenever someone says “I worry about you being gay because of how hard it is to be gay” I just shake my head and think “well, it’s because of people like YOU saying that that it’s hard. Be an advocate for me and the LGBT community and it will get that much easier!”

  5. I’m Canadian; can someone please explain this to me?

    As far as I know, there was ONE big gay-prom-controversy that happened. The media covered it like crazy, it went to court, they got to go to prom together, and then a TV movie was made about it.

    And then, it didn’t happen again. I don’t understand why the same story keeps getting played out, the same way. Do people just….? I do not know.

    ALso, there are big chances that I am wrong with some of my facts. Just sayin’.

    • There was Constance McMillen this year whose story became really huge and she got invited to Ellen and went to court and everything. The story didn’t end happily, however, because even though she got a settlement from the school, she got sent to an “official” prom where there were five other people or something like that, and the rest of the school went to a “private” prom that she wasn’t invited to. Her story is only the latest one; apparently many years ago there was a gay boy named Aaron Fricke who successfully managed to bring his boyfriend to prom after a lawsuit way back in 1980.

      There is also a somewhat related story of a girl, Ceara Sturgis, who wanted to wear a tux in her yearbook photo. Her photo didn’t get in, and she’s been fighting for her picture to get in for about a year or so now. I believe the case is still being fought in court so there is no resolution atm.

      In any case, this story keeps playing out because it’s happening everywhere. It probably happens a lot more often than we’re aware of, because most students can’t afford to bring the case to court or just don’t want to attract all that attention because it’s a real headache to deal with.

      Homophobia is far from being gone anywhere in the world. I’m Canadian too, and I’m pretty sure many of my high school teachers were aware of my sexual orientation, because immediately after I came out, their attitudes towards me changed drastically for the worse. I never had a girlfriend during high school (nobody else was out anyway), nor did we have a proper prom, so personally I managed to escape any consequences that would’ve come up otherwise.
      Also note that I live in Vancouver, so it’s not like this occurred in some ultra-conservative rural part of Canada. Homophobia is everywhere, and while we’re making great strides towards changing society’s views every day, it’s still a very, very long ongoing process.

  6. I am currently a student at Champlin Park and the hypocrisy of this situation is absolutely baffling. There are posters in every classroom and throughout the hallways preaching that Champlin Park is a “Safe Zone” where no one will be discriminated against because of a number of things, one of which is SEXUAL ORIENTATION. In fact, Anoka-Hennepin School District No. 11 Policy 413.0 states that, “It shall be a violation of this policy for any student or District personnel through conduct or communication to… discriminate against a pupil or other District personnel on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability or any other protected classifications set forth in the District’s Equal Employment Opportunity Policy and the District’s Equal Educational Opportunity Policy”, one of the other protected classifications is sexual orientation. I believe that not allowing the two girls to walk together is discrimination and therefore the school district is violating its own policy.

    • why do you and the other students think this is happening? is it like there’s one homophobic person at the top or something? it seems really baffling, i’m sure it’s really weird to have this all happening

      • from what I’ve heard from one of the girls involved, if it were only up the principal at Champlin Park they would have walked together. End of story. I’ve met the man in charge of all the decision making in the district. (I don’t remember his title per say, I wish I did now though.) He held meetings with top students suggested by teachers at each school. Whenever we tried to bring up topics that mattered to us, like rights of gay students or teachers we liked getting the axe, he would swing it back to cafeteria options or ramble on about keeping “both sides happy”. inIn my opinion he is much more concerned with being voted out of his job, than with what the students want/need.

  7. I went to a catholic high school in the UK. My head of sixth form heard i’d come out and told me I wasn’t allowed to be out in school and shouldn’t sit next to any girls in the common room. So I made a point of flirting with every single girl I knew and being extra touchy feely, they knew what was going on and played along with it. I was lucky that the majority of students were in my favour. But teaching staff hated it. I really didn’t care. I was chucked out by the end of the year for being too rebelious =]

  8. I don’t understand what is so heterosexually sacred about prom and these high school dances? yes, actually as soon as we walk into the building all of the oh-so-classy ‘casino royale’ themed decor will magically become rainbow and flannel. oh my!

  9. I was outed in high school in the late 80’s. I was harassed by the faculty and the student body. Back then I had no way to fight back.

    I am so PROUD of this generation and how they are able to stand up to all of this. Keep fighting y’all. Make the changes that are so desperately needed.

    Keep up the good work… you have support from the rest of us.

  10. i’m not from the US so i’m really frickin confused about prom in general.

    if a student does not have a girlf/boyf are they not allowed to bring a friend of the same sex? like does the date have to always be of the opposite sex?

    • Me neither, and my question would be the same. It seems rather unhealthy to me that these adults are so obsessed with teen sex. Surely it’s unreasonable to assume that dates for a school prom *necessarily* have a sexual interest in one another? Presumably nothing particularly sexual is going to happen on the premises? So what is the problem? Oversexualising teen relationships? Fear of teen sexuality? Fear of ‘what the neighbours might say’?*shrugs* Weird.

  11. I do not know about this event specifically. I was however a teacher myself, and I find that most of these overreactions occur because administrators are scared of parents. These two kids likely have a total of 4 parents. The administration is worried about the crazy religious parents, which I’m sure number far more than 4.

    Loud angry parents have more power than anyone in our educational system.

  12. In North Dakota, where I went to high school about 7 years ago, I didn’t really care much for prom and went last minute during our senior year with my best friends and our good guy friends. This was before I was out.

    BUT when we got there, there was a number of girls in tuxes with other girls and boys with other boys! People I had seen at school and didn’t even KNOW were gay! They walked in the march and were presented as couples. Nobody cared! (Not my classmates, not their parents, not the principal nor the counselors, not the teachers,…)I was AMAZED! SHOCKED! BAFFLED!

    It was one of the most progressive things I’ve seen to date in a city that has some church every three blocks!

    How is this possible while the blue state neighbors can’t simply acknowledge two lesbians?!

  13. I don’t care about stupid old people making stupid hypocritical decisions that aren’t fooling anyone, this article made me happy because an out lesbian couple has been elected Queens of the party (or whatever this is, I’m not american I don’t know anything about these school things) by their probably-mostly-straight peers.

    Bigots can whine and pray as much as they want they can’t reverse time and fight progress, eventually they’ll die and be replaced by these open-minded students. Go go Champlin Park kids!

  14. i live in omaha, nebraska. i’d just like to say that i am a lesbian and i was homecoming princess this year. the woman who organized homecoming events knew about my sexual orientation. my peers know i’m gay and no one tried to take me out of homecoming activities. i walked with a boy, but as soon as i got off the stage with my crown i ran to my girlfriend and gave her the biggest kiss 🙂 our homecoming king last year was gay too! just thought i should throw a positive comment in here. it’s sad that people are so intolerant. the sad part is our city will not pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. 🙁

  15. Everyone reading this should be appalled. For anyone who supports equality of all kinds, PLEASE do yourself a favor and watch this amazing new video by an upcoming band, with the lyrics discussing the difficulties of this exact situation. Please spread this to anyone you know who struggles with this disease they call inequality…

    CREATURE – “Prom Prom”

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