Prom Resource Kit
For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, the excitement of prom season may be overwhelmed by concerns that they may not feel welcome, or worse, might be actively excluded from prom. This toolkit will help journalists craft prom coverage that integrates the experiences of LGBT youth into stories.
Prom is meant to be a joyous occasion and remains an important rite of passage for students all over the country. However, for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, the excitement of prom season may be overwhelmed by concerns that they may not feel welcome, or worse, might be actively excluded from prom. Many LGBT students have found ways to feel comfortable and secure at prom while still expressing their individuality and creativity. GLAAD hopes that the following toolkit will help you craft prom coverage that integrates the experiences of LGBT youth into your stories.
LGBT Students at Prom
Prom is an important ritual for teens everywhere, and many LGBT youth find new and exciting ways to make prom relevant to their lives and communities. New traditions include Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) members attending prom together, nominating LGBT friends for prom royalty, and volunteering for an inclusive prom planning committee. However, stories featuring LGBT students often focus on controversies connected to couples attending the dance together or responses to student dress. Though many students use clothing to express their personalities at prom, there is often an extensive amount of coverage devoted to what may be perceived by some as the unconventional clothing choices of LGBT youth. For example, a transgender young woman may wear a dress or a lesbian youth may plan to attend in a tuxedo.
The Emergence of Gay Prom
More and more LGBT community centers and youth organizations across the country are holding what are commonly referred to as “gay proms.” As during other proms, teens at these events dress up, go out to dinner, and pose for pictures. The only difference is that the participating students are allies or members of the LGBT community. Gay proms often draw youth from the local region instead of just one high school, providing an opportunity for diverse groups of LGBT students from different communities to come together and socialize. These alternative proms give youth an occasion to enjoy prom in a safe and supportive environment that affirms who they are.
Several high-profile stories of LGBT youth at prom have gained national attention in recent years. Although these stories merit attention and consideration, please note they are not fully representative of the prom experiences of all LGBT students. Many of these stories have centered on students who have chosen to express their identities in nonconforming ways and were met with resistance – and even anger - from administrators, teachers or parents. In 2011, transgender student Andii Viveros of Davie, FL made news after being named McFatter Technical High School's prom queen, and in 2012, Hope Decker and Tiffany Wright of Lexington, KY were barred from attending prom as a couple at their Catholic high school. High-profile cases tend to center on the conflicts and occasional legal battles that may arise when LGBT couples are barred from attending prom together. In 2013, Missouri teen Stacy Dawson successfully challenged his school's discriminatory policy against same-sex couples at prom, while students and parents at a local Indiana high school received media attention for trying to create a prom that bans gay students from attending. These high-profile stories often set the tone for coverage of LGBT students at prom, and it is important that they include fair and balanced voices on LGBT issues.
- Profile an LGBT couple or group who will be attending their local prom. Contact a school counselor or the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at a local high school or community center to see if LGBT students plan on attending prom.
- Chronicle any changes in school policy that allow for LGBT students who do not conform to traditional gender roles to participate in prom royalty. Find out of there are restrictions on who can run for king or queen, and why these policies were formed.
- Report on whether local school proms are inclusive of LGBT students. If possible, contact school administrators or ask for the school’s policies regarding couples and dress codes.
- Contact local LGBT organizations or youth centers to see if they are hosting inclusive alternatives to the high school prom. Interview the youth planning these events on the merits of alternative celebrations.
- Discuss differences in prom traditions with the parent(s) of an LGBT teen who will be attending prom and LGBT parent(s) whose children will be attending prom.
TIPS FOR INCLUSIVE COVERAGE
In reporting on LGBT teens, please remember that they are as diverse as the rest of society, crossing lines of gender, race, class, family structure, religion, geography and political affiliation. We encourage you to reflect that diversity in your coverage whenever possible and to identify students according to their wishes. If you have questions about terminology please reach out to GLAAD as well as consult our Media Reference Guide or College Media Reference Guide. Both resources include many terms commonly used within LGBT teen culture.
SOME ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS
- Always ask students how they identify themselves. We urge you to respect these identities and be consistent in your usage of names and pronouns.
- In some cases, students may be nervous discussing their identity with media professionals. Whenever possible use universal language and approach subjects from an inclusive framework. Prompting students with terms such as “date” instead of “girlfriend” or “clothing” instead of “tuxedo” will put students at ease to speak openly about their identities and experiences.
- Please be respectful and tasteful with photographs of LGBT students and make decisions about their inclusion based on the same guidelines you would for all students.
- Although LGBT youth attending prom can trigger concern from parents and administrators, we encourage you to address the concerns of students looking to create a safe and inclusive prom experience.
For information on LGBT-inclusive proms please contact the following organizations. A directory of LGBT Community Centers by state can be accessed at www.lgbtcenters.org.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) LGBT Project
“The Right of Same-Sex Couples to Participate in their High School Dances, Proms and Promenades”
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
“Creating an Inclusive School Prom”
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund
“Prom Season: What LGBTQ Youth Need to Know” (in Spanish and English)
Safe Schools Coalition
SELECTED PAST COVERAGE
The Associated Press, February 15, 2013
"Missouri District Revises Prom Policy on Same-Sex Dates"
The Lexington Herald-Leader, May 13, 2012
"Same-Sex Couple Barred From Lexington Catholic Prom"
ABC News, June 3, 2011
"Transgender Teen Voted Prom Queen"
CNN, July 20, 2010
"Mississippi School Pays Damages to Lesbian Teen Over Prom Dispute"
The Mirror, April 7, 2008
“Queer Prom Creates Memories Once Missed”
Published in February 2013