May I Have This Dance?
LGBT Prom Stories
In 2016, the archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, made a very pastoral decision to allow students in Catholic high schools in the archdiocese to take a same-gender date to the prom or formal dance. But earlier than that, in 2013 Father Edward Salmon, SJ, the president of McQuaid Jesuit High School – an all-boys Catholic institution in Rochester, NY – allowed two gay young men to attend a formal school dance together as a couple.
Framing his decision in the context of statements from Pope Francis and other Vatican documents, Fr. Salmon put gay and lesbian relationships, as well as heterosexual ones, back in the category of human affection, where they properly belong.
Featured below are such stories of LGBT students, proms and schools on an American ritual that is synonymous with youth and the social climate of growing up.
March 29, 2013: Father Salmon’s compassionate decision to allow two gay young men at an all-boys Catholic high school in Rochester, New York, to attend a formal school dance together as a couple. What is good about his approach is not only his sense of hospitality and inclusion, but that he de-sexualizes school dances. In doing so, he puts gay and lesbian relationships, as well as heterosexual ones, back in the category of human affection, where they properly belong.
July 15, 2014: Johann Go waited two years before coming out at St. Patrick’s College Silverstream, New Zealand, fearing the repercussions of doing so at a “conservative, Catholic all-boys’ school.” Instead, he found love and support from the school’s principal and his peers. Since then, he has used his openly gay status to advance inclusion at the school by speaking about homophobic attitudes present among the students and facilitating an LGBT peer support group.
April 23, 2015: When Catholic colleges and universities, rather than weakening their Catholic identity, strengthen it by building rainbow bridges over their campuses.
September 30, 2015: Lance Sanderson, a senior at Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis, who had sought permission to bring a same-sex date to the school’s Homecoming Dance last weekend, not only was excluded from the dance, but found himself suspended by school officials when he arrived for classes on Monday. September 27, 2016: Lance Sanderson’s supporters had organized under #LetLanceDance, and a Change.org petition gathered nearly 28,000 signatures, but to no avail. Facing bullying from administrators and students alike, Sanderson completed senior year through online coursework and missed graduation. “With his lawsuit, Sanderson seeks justice.
January 23, 2016: The archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, has made a decision allowing students in Catholic high schools in the archdiocese to take a same-gender date to the prom or formal dance. ‘These are quite often emotional situations and it’s very important that we always have respect for the dignity of the human being involved,’ he said.
May 10, 2016: Aniya Wolf was escorted out of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School prom by a school official who grabbed her arm and threatened to call police. Wolf’s ejection was the culmination of a debate over dress code between Wolf and her family, and Bishop McDevitt administrators. July 26, 2016: Lesbian student – Aniya Wolf – ejected from prom welcomed by neighboring school.
June 11, 2016: An open letter written by a New Ways Ministry staff member to his high school. As a result of the controversy, the school changed its policy. They call the event an “end of the year dance,” not “prom,” and every student is allowed to bring one guest, regardless of gender, to it.
September 9, 2016: There’s not much of the Catholic Catechism’s call for “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” toward LGBT people in Arkansas’ Catholic schools’ new policies, which enforce the idea that LGBT youth should remain closeted and quiet.
March 11, 2017: On February 27, a Mercy H.S. senior named Allison V. launched a Charge.org petition that gained nearly 2,000 signatures in support of students’ request for same-gender prom dates. According to a second petition, though, which has gained more than 1,500 signatures itself, Allison was intimidated by administrators into closing down her first petition.
April 6, 2017: Catholic schools have to face the reality that more and more of their students will be seeking to attend prom with an escort of the same-gender.
February 10, 2018: A Catholic school district in Ontario, Canada, has pulled funding from a musical production about a gay student’s struggle for equality in Catholic education. The reasons, though, for withdrawing funds are not what one would expect.
April 11, 2018: An LGBTQ dance will go ahead at Marquette University despite conservative demands that the dance be cancelled. Some 18,000 people signed a petition asking the prom be cancelled. But students, and even more importantly the University’s leadership, have firmly rejected that demand.
June 20, 2018: A brief history of LGBTQ students and proms (Windy City Times)