Prom is often a milestone for high school students that is prepared for weeks, maybe months, in advance, and that they expect to remember fondly for a lifetime. Students may envision a perfect night dancing with the person they love, dressed in clothes that make them look and feel great. However, this vision can be hard to realize for LGBT students. Some schools have discriminatory policies that prevent people from bringing same-sex partners or wearing clothes that do not fit established gender norms. When a student who faces such discrimination speaks out, such as by threatening legal action, it usually becomes news.
The media must be careful about the way they cover prom stories involving LGBT youth, and as prom season draws nearer, GLAAD has created a Prom Resource Kit to help journalists craft fair, accurate and inclusive stories. Speaking to the school or the local department of education for an explanation of the policies is important, but so is speaking with the student at the center of the issue. Additionally, the media should seek out any organization aiding the student facing alleged discrimination, as well as other qualified voices on LGBT youth issues.
Recently, when a group of students and teachers at an Indiana school proposed creating a prom that banned gay students from attending, the media failed to provide a fair, accurate and inclusive understanding of the issue by speaking only to those in the community with anti-LGBT views.
In another recent story out of Missouri, teenager Stacy Dawson was denied the option to bring his boyfriend to prom because of a discriminatory policy in his school's handbook, which stated, "high school students will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls." Initially, Dawson was told that the school would not change its policy, but only one day after the Southern Poverty Law Center threatened to take legal action on his behalf, the school removed the anti-gay ban.
Media coverage of this story often cited the 2010 case of Constance McMillan, whose school canceled prom after she asked to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. The school then held a private prom, while sending McMillan to a decoy event. She was eventually awarded $35,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on her behalf, and the school had to change its policy.