Does Prom Matter For Gay Teens?

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The Itawamba County School District has denied knowledge of a "decoy prom" set up for lesbian teen Constance McMillen, but one blogger questions the importance of prom within the larger spectrum of gay rights.


According to Sheila Byrd of the AP, the ACLU has alleged that Itawamba School District Superintendent Teresa McNeece and Attorney Michele Floyd attended a meeting with parent organizers on March 29, five days before prom night, at which attendees decided to have two proms. The school board admits a meeting took place at night, but denies that the decoy prom decision was part of it. The ACLU has sued the district on McMillen's behalf, but no date has yet been set for the trial. Meanwhile, McMillen has received a lot of positive media attention — she'll grand-marshal the NYC Gay Pride Parade — but she has also transferred to a new school.

Was it worth it? Nellie B of The F Bomb affirms that "queers should be able to participate without fear" in prom. However, she also likens the debate over gay students at proms to another high-profile conflict:

Think about prom: Us ladies are supposed to get dressed up and pretty in long dresses, etc., for the most magical night of our lives, spent with the boy (excuse me, partner) of our dreams. We dance and maybe lose our virginities, in the grand tradition of the event. Sound familiar? Prom, and its paraphernalia, sound a lot like marriage.

She continues,

[A]s in marriage, some of us would rather not give hundreds of dollars to the prom-industrial complex-or the marriage industrial complex-and choose to commemorate the culmination of secondary education differently. Some of us like to opt-out of capitalist, patriarchy-based institutions altogether. I'd rather work for queer kids to be safe in school every day, not just on prom night.


Of course, one could argue that there's no conflict between advocating for freedom to go to prom and fighting for freedom and safety every day. But Nellie B does make a good point: the fight over prom, like that over gay marriage, does touch on "the age-old queer debate of assimilation versus sovereignty." There's no question that McMillen should be allowed to attend her prom if she wants to, or that holding a "decoy prom" for her and a few other students was despicable. But as Nellie B points out, participating "capitalist, patriarchy-based" events isn't necessarily a goal for all gay people (or indeed for all people, generally). She's a little mean about those who might choose to join McMillen's fight for prom ("we should all be going to prom too! Like, in solidarity and to be an activist! I'm oh-so-oppressed! Right?"). But the larger point her post raises is a solid one: equal access to problematic institutions like prom and marriage isn't the end of social change, it's only the beginning.

Board Denies ‘Sham Prom' For Lesbian [AP, via MSNBC]
Prom And Assimilation [The F Bomb]


Earlier: Lesbian Teen Sent To Decoy Prom While Other Kids Party At Real One


Thus Spake Kate is effulgent.

I think one large point that often gets left out of the "queer sovereignty versus heteronormative assimilation" discussion in regards to the direction of the gay rights movement is this: not all gay people are queer.

Being gay doesn't necessarily make you a radical. Being attracted to people of your own gender doesn't come automatically bundled with a progressive worldview and iconoclastic tendencies. Many members of the LGBT community are just as conservative and traditional as their heterosexual counterparts, and in valuing tradition they want the same access to these instutitions, rites of passage, and traditions. And they should have them.

You don't make a very loud/effective statement by rejecting something that's not open to you to begin with. The way I look at it is: even if it were legal for me to get married, I wouldn't. And I demand my right to reject the marriage of institution, not to have the institution reject me.