A group of students, parents, and teachers from Sullivan High School in Indiana caused an uproar in the national media by campaigning for a “traditional” prom that would ban LGBTQ students from attending. It wasn’t long before the school’s principal, David Springer, spoke out publicly in opposition of the group and announced that all students would be welcome at the Sullivan High School prom, stating, “Anybody can go to the prom. Of course a girl could go out with another girl if they didn’t have a date or that was their choice.”
Let’s pause for a second. First, let me commend Principal Springer. I applaud his efforts to distance himself, his faculty, and his students from the actions and beliefs of a radical anti-gay group. I applaud his attempt to support same-sex couples. However, Springer’s implication that a female student could only date another girl if a boy hadn’t already asked her is almost as problematic as the allusion that sexual orientation is a choice. Principle Springer, you had me at “Anybody can go to the prom.”
As the coordinator of the youth program at Compass Gay & Lesbian Community Center, I receive phone calls from parents, teachers, and school administrators very similar to the Sullivan High School principal. On a weekly basis, I speak to well-meaning adults seeking resources and support for their LGBTQ teens or students and more often than not, it appears that these well-meaning adults need LGBTQ resources just as much, if not more so, than their youth. Although they mean well, I cringe every time I need to explain to adults why a human being shouldn’t be referred to as “it.” It is important to note that these adults are not your garden-variety homophobes. They are not the Indiana citizens advocating for an anti-gay prom. They are not hateful or homophobic; they are merely uninformed.
The teachers and school administrators who have taken the time to seek out resources for LGBTQ youth are already heroes. While I may not be able to influence a group of small-minded individuals in Indiana, it is well within my reach to provide the well-meaning adults here in Palm Beach County with the resources necessary to serve as trusted allies for LGBTQ youth. The role of the LGBTQ ally is significant; however, the impact of having an LGBTQ advocate equipped with the tools – and willingness - to combat discrimination, bullying, and homophobia on behalf of LGBTQ students in every school could save lives and change worldviews.
These people are heroes. Trust me, I’ve met them. I’ve given the informal crash course on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual, two-spirited (LGBTQQIAAP2S) terminology to these inquiring minds in search of resources so they can become better teachers, parents, and friends. The incident at Sullivan High School is just one example of how much work there is left to do. A major component in achieving equality is to empower allies, not only to make their voices heard, but also to be impactful when they do. When Principal Springer spoke out to deny any affiliation with the anti-gay group, he meant well; however, Springer could have established Sullivan High School as an inclusive and safe learning institution for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Wouldn’t that have been something?
I propose we raise the bar for what it means to be an ally. It’s not enough to merely disagree with homophobia and discrimination anymore. It’s time to speak up, take action, and educate. We need to raise the standard for what is acceptable in our homes, classrooms, offices, cities, states, and country and make it known. Homophobia, racism, and misogyny are so last century. Get with the times and stand for equality.