Australian Teen Can’t Take Her Girlfriend to the Prom

 

What is it with schools not letting teens bring dates to the prom?

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Hannah Williams wanted to bring her girlfriend to the prom and the folks in charge at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School in Melbourne (an all-girls school) wouldn’t let her.

Their justifications are really interesting. Hannah’s father says that ”[t]he school kept saying because it is an all-girls school we want to make an event where they can meet boys in a social scenario.” Of course, not all girls want to meet boys in a social scenario, for any of a number of reasons. So then the principal took another tack:

 

The principal of Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar, Heather Schnagl, said the event did not discriminate against same-sex couples and was designed to promote a co-educational experience.

”I don’t think it’s appropriate they feel discriminated against, and I’m very upset they feel that,” she said.

”If we opened it up and said girls could bring another female they would all bring females; the policy is trying to create an event where boys are invited. We are a school that has an all-girls environment, and they are meant to invite guests, not partners.”

She said age was also an issue. ”It’s an event for year 11s and the student’s guest was in year 10.”

Hannah said her friends took younger males and she was the only one asked to provide the age of her date. ”They kept on making up excuses, and said everything was a problem for me.’

Let’s unpack some of these. First, there’s the idea that if girls weren’t forced to bring a boy to the prom, they wouldn’t. Now, I can certainly understand wanting to create opportunities for teens to socialize with other teens, and I can understand wanting to give the girls at the school a  chance to do that with boys. After all, presumably, many of them have at least some interest in boys and they deserve a space to explore that. But why do you have to make it a requirement in order to attend one of the big events of the school year? And is it really true that you have to force girls to go to the prom with a boy? I’m unconvinced.

Further, if the idea is that “they are meant to invite guests, not partners,” what about the girls who have boyfriends? Wouldn’t that count as bringing a partner? And what about a student who has a girlfriend who doesn’t go to the school? Or who wants to bring a guest who’s also a girl? Would that have been OK? I’m guessing not, if only because the principal would have probably said that the idea was to bring a guest from outside the school and that wouldn’t be discrimination against same-sex couples.

So then the principal says that it’s an age thing, although it certainly sounds like that’s not true, either.

I can only conclude that this is really about not wanting girls to date or dance with other girls. That’s always been a tricky issue for all-girls schools since homophobia often prompts people to attack them, make fun of them, or accuse them of turning girls and women into lesbians. But the way to deal with homophobia is not to add to it. The way to deal with it is to acknowledge that some people are queer, that there’s nothing inherently wrong about that, and support people of any age as they discover who they are. It’s a lot harder than simply banning a couple from the prom, but it’s the school’s job to do the difficult things that help the students.

Given that, I think it’s worth pointing out that the principal also said that she doesn’t “think it’s appropriate they feel discriminated against.” First off, they feel discriminated against because the rules were applied differently for them than their classmates. Seems reasonable to me.

Also, there’s no such think as an appropriate or inappropriate feeling. Feelings and emotions happen and there’s no reason to add to the situation by shaming them for it. Now, actions can be appropriate or inappropriate, but nobody has said that Hannah’s actions in response to this situation have been at all inappropriate, so that isn’t an issue.

Unfortunately, the situation was so stressful that both girls decided to transfer to another school which doesn’t keep same-sex couples out of the prom. And I have to give a lot of credit to the girls’ fathers. When talking about the mandatory heterosexuality at the prom, one of them said, ”that process is anachronistic and creates feelings of discrimination among girls who are same-sex-attracted.” Meanwhile, the other dad offered this: ‘The idea that there had to be a gender balance at the dinner dance seemed to be discriminatory. It was a very difficult time for Savannah but she’s an amazingly strong young person and we are very proud of her.”

I only wish more parents were like that.

Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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