It’s that time of year when millions of teens are excitedly getting ready for the biggest party of the year: prom! They’re renting tuxes, buying dresses, picking corsages and boutonnieres. They’re stressing over who to ask to prom or who’s going to ask them, and a courageous few LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) students are exercising their right to bring a same-sex date to the prom. We love it that you refuse to be excluded from this celebration but there are a few things you should consider before making that big decision.
- You can, by law, bring your same-sex date to the prom. The courts ruled more than 20 years ago that attendance with a date of the same sex is protected under the First Amendment since doing so can be considered an expression of one’s identity. In other words, if that’s what you want to do, no one can stop you.
- Say something first! It probably wouldn’t be wise of you to just show up at your prom with a same-sex date if your school isn’t gay friendly. You should inform your school administration of your plans so they can arrange security measures and maybe even provide gay rights and discrimination education to the student body.
- Be prepared for your school to deny you this right. Get the support of your parents and friends. Get a petition going demanding that you be allowed to attend the prom with your same-sex date. Have your parents contact the principal on your behalf. Sometimes just discovering that your parents are on your side sways the administration to reverse their decision. If they still refuse, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has prepared a letter for students, parents and friends of gay people to present to the Principal or Superintendent of any school that refuses to allow same sex couples from attending prom. Read it here!
- Expect any tactic to get you to give up. Some schools have agreed to let someone bring a same-sex date on the condition that both must get parental permission. They can only impose this if they are demanding that from everyone, but if you decide to get parental permission to avoid drama, have your parents write a clause on the form saying that this does not relieve the school from their duty to ensure your safety.
- Take precautions. Your school is required by law to provide meaningful security measures to guarantee your safety. If you’ve been threatened or harassed, talk with your school principal or district superintendent before the prom. It’s their job to keep you out of harm's way.
- You’re a girl and you and your date want to wear tuxes. Can you? Absolutely! You school cannot force you to wear prom clothing that conforms to traditional gender norms. This policy is both prejudicial and unconstitutional, but you should know that the courts have on occasion sided with schools. If you’re revved up for a fight, the ACLU's LGBT Project has developed a letter for girl students who are being prevented from wearing a tuxedo to school dances. Send it to your school’s administration and see if they give in.
- Make sure you have people on your side. Ask your friends for their support on this and plan to spend time with them during the actual dance. This can help you feel less stressed out about it and if you’re with people, homophobes are less likely to harass you.
- Make sure your date is in on it. You should inform your date that this is a predominantly heterosexual event to be sure he/she is comfortable and okay with all the attention you’re likely to get. If he/she is aware and cool with it, you’ll be fine.
- You’re there. What now? If they try to block your entry, let them know that they are violating a constitutional right and you have no qualms suing. If you expect an issue, have your parents on hand just in case. Once you’re inside, remember that you have a right to enjoy your prom just like every other couple. That means, you can dance with your date and hold hands.
- Be smart. In an ideal world, you’d be able to enjoy the night with your date without a hitch, but in this day and era where hate crimes are far too common, that’s not the case, so be smart. Stay in areas that are well lit and near crowds. Make sure you have transportation to and from the prom. Plan what you’re going to do after prom beforehand and make sure your friends and family know where you’ll be.
- Be proud. Expect to get a lot of attention. Kids may point and stare and whisper. Let them. This is a special night for you and your date so enjoy it!
And if you want to make your prom eco-friendly check out our Green Your Prom tip sheets!