As we enter the thick of the high school prom season, news comes of yet another same-gender couple not being allowed to attend a Catholic high school’s big dance. This trend is becoming larger and larger, and soon Catholic schools are going to have to face the reality that more and more of their students will be seeking to attend with an escort of the same-gender.
Buzzfeed reported that Paula Goodgame, a 17-year old student at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Florida, “had discovered she wouldn’t be allowed to take her girlfriend, Anjali Persad, to the big dance as her date, according to an email she received from her school guidance counselor.”
The guidance counselor told her that school rules required “escorts must be of the opposite gender.” In an email the counselor gave her an alternative suggestion, but one that falls short of the mark: “. . . [I]f you could have one of your male friends ask her as his date that would probably work.”
However well-intentioned the guidance counselor is, that solution is not satisfying. If anything, such a suggestion teaches students to find a way around an unjust rule, rather than confronting the injustice that exists. It sends the message that this student must find underhanded ways of living out her relationship. Neither of these lessons expresses Catholic values.
As Bondings 2.0 has reported, while this trend of barring same-gender couples from proms is growing, there have been some instances where Catholic leaders have taken a more enlightened approach to the issue. In 2013, McQuaid Jesuit H.S., Rochester, an all-boys school allowed a same-gender couple, and the school’s president used concepts from Pope Francis to defend the decision. In Australia, an archbishop made a blanket decision that all Catholic high school students should be allowed to take to the prom whoever they want.
The whole controversy raises a number of questions and puzzled expressions. For one thing, girls dancing with girls, and women dancing with women, has been a socially acceptable practice for decades even in the most heterosexual of environments. What’s the big deal here?
More importantly, do Catholic school officials assume that all of their heterosexually-coupled prom dates are going to engage in sexual activity on the big night? Of course, the answer is no. So where is the problem in allowing a same-gender couple to attend the event, using the same assumption that sexual contact is not a foregone conclusion?
If Catholic schools justify their bans on same-gender prom couples by saying they are upholding church teaching on sexuality, the question needs to be asked, why aren’t they doing the same thing with the way proms celebrate conspicuous consumption. Catholic high school students will sometimes spend way beyond their means for dresses, tuxedos, flowers, limousines, tickets, after-parties. Why are school officials only concerned about one part of church teaching–sex–and not the more socially justice oriented values of modest and moderate use of financial resources.
Finally, what is the purpose of such bans on same-gender couples except to exclude? Do school officials believe that such rules will discourage gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens from acknowledging their orientations and from seeking relationships that are honest and personally fulfilling to them? All these rules do is create bad feelings–and not least among the majority of heterosexually-oriented ally students who are friends with their LGB peers.
Just as with the terrible scourge of Catholic institutions firing LGBT and ally employees, the Church is soon going to learn that this strategy is not only unjust but unsustainable. As more and more LGB students step up and seek to attend proms with their special guests, schools are going to find that the institution of prom will have to start accommodating them or risk becoming an outdated tradition.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 6, 2017
South Florida Gay News: “Catholic High School Bans Lesbian Couple From Attending Prom Together”
Michael Maher, a researcher on Catholic youth and LGBT issues be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.