Being Gay and Going to Prom
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” -Declaration of Independence
For some, the right to be themselves is the only happiness they want.
In straight relationships, everything is confusing and high school is hard enough without being gay. It takes a lot to open up about being different. Fellow students can be ruthless to one another. Then, when prom rolls around, that simple desire to go with someone you love becomes a political and perhaps religious statement. The second a closet door for one student swings open, an open mind must also swing into action from the principal’s and prom committee doors.
Brent Harwood II
Harwood comes from a Midwestern family and his parents were born and raised in the Bible Belt. Brent came to the realization that he was gay at a very young age. However, his self image would not allow him to come into the open. “I hated myself for years. I tried to be straight,” he says. “But you can’t help who you’re attracted to.”
While in high school, he kept the same girlfriend for more than two years. “Everything was fine,” he said. “Until her hormones kicked in and she wanted to get physical.you know, more than kissing. I just couldn’t do it.” They broke up six months before the prom. “A few very close friends knew I was gay, but I was afraid to tell my parents. They’re good Christians. I didn’t know how they’d take it.”
A few months before the prom, Brent decided to take a girlfriend who knew about his sexual preference. “She didn’t have a date and I didn’t want to stay home that night,” says Harwood. He recalls that the prom itself was rather boring. After staying for an hour Harwood and his gal pal left to pursue a game of billiards.
“I told my parents I was gay my sophomore year of college and they were really supportive.” He says.
Lang is a bisexual female who attended a Catholic high school in the northeast. “My parents still don’t know I’m bi. They think the gay guy who helped me move out of my dorm sophomore year is my boyfriend. He goes along with it because it’s funny.” In college, Lang is a member of several gay pride groups, including the Gay-Straight Alliance. But in high school, it wasn’t like that.
“I had a girlfriend in high school and my friends knew I was bi,” she recalls. “But I went to a Catholic high school, and she went to a public school.”
Lang said it was not difficult to conceal her sexuality from authority figures. “Girls are always more affectionate than men,” she says.
Lang did not go to her senior prom. “I wanted to take my girlfriend to the prom, but she was from a different school. It’s a Catholic school,” Lang says. “I couldn’t just take a chick. Not without coming out to my parents, anyway. I tried to get one of my guy friends to take her, but no one would. We ended up going to the after-prom party.”
Simons went to a public school in the northeast. “I was never ashamed of who I was,” Simons says. “One day I just decided it was pointless to hide.” He did not have a problem telling his parents that he was gay either. “What were they going to say? They love me.” he says. The public high school Simons attended did not have rules against same sex partners at the prom. “Lot’s of people do it. Sometimes the girls bring each other to the prom, because they don’t have dates. Some single guys do it to save money. There wasn’t any real homophobia,” he says.
Simons was planning to take his boyfriend to the prom, until they broke up. “It was such a mess, especially since he paid for everything,” Simons recalls. Simons says that he had to pay his ex-boyfriend back for all of the prom expenses. “I had to give him money for the tickets, the limo, and the after-prom tickets. I had to pay him back for everything, since he didn’t go to my school. I ended up taking my best friend to prom. She and I had a really good time,” he said.
Twenty years ago, a precedent was set in the landmark case of Fricke v. Lynch. According to an ACLU fact sheet, a high school in Rhode Island tried to prohibit Fricke and his same-sex date from attending their prom, recognizing that some people might get offended and the situation may escalate into violence. Fricke decided to fight the decision of his principal by taking the school to court. The federal court in Rhode Island not only decided in Fricke’s Favor, but also declared that the school was required to provide adequate protection for Aaron Fricke and his date. Consistently though out the years, courts have upheld this decision. Any school receiving federal funds is legally required to allow same-sex partners to attend a prom.
In communities with larger gay populations, teens will sometimes organize a separate gay prom. One reason for this is the discomfort caused by onlookers while being affectionate with a same-sex partner in a predominantly heterosexual environment. Some gay activists believe that attending a separate prom is a form of gays “ghettoizing” themselves and is further ostracizing themselves from the rest of the community. Others believe that a holding a gay prom is a way for gay community members to show support for one another and solidarity.
The prom isn’t just a dance. The prom is a signifier that a high school student is moving from one stage of his life into another. Public education in this country was developed so that everyone, regardless of their economic or social status, could better themselves. Before public education was available, the very ability to read was an indication of wealth and class. In an age where society is moving towards complete social equality, where education is open to all, the prom too should open to all.