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High School Senior Banned From Prom For Wearing A Tux

Photo: Cultura Motion / Shutterstock
photo of prom group

In 2016, Aniya Wolf of Harrisburg, PA put on a suit the night of her class prom.

I had seen the pictures online after my own (and also lesbian) daughter's prom. The fact that a gal was posed in garb usually relegated to the gents didn’t phase me. 

In contrast to what Wolf and her mother encountered, I had just experienced my own moments of glee, smiling as I swiped through images and laughed at the silly poses captured on my daughter Lauren’s phone.

I can’t imagine the devastation Wolf must have felt when she was turned away at the door to her school's dance. 

To see the preparations she’d taken to look and feel her best for that momentous night invalidated — disintegrated and to feel as if she were an outsider at the school she attends every single day.

It was as if a big reveal had just been delivered by everyone overseeing her education at Bishop McDevitt High School: this is how we have really felt all along. You haven’t given us a good enough excuse to lay bare our true estimation of you until tonight. Until this very moment. Nothing is more important. Right. Now.

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Her school, lurking under the guise of newly created and hastily delivered prom attire guidelines, stood by its excuse to exclude her. Perhaps even more detrimental to not only Wolf, but to all children who identify as gay, bi, or whatever else falls outside of the “norm," this school elected to wield this edict as their public statement.

All are welcome... unless you differ from the flock. Wolf's ostracization had set in motion ripples of consequences, both within her own community and beyond.

Orlando Pride goalkeeper, Ashlyn Harris, proudly put on a suit to honor Wolf’s exclusion.

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Meanwhile, Bishop McDevitt and its supporters had simply outed themselves as unaccepting, judgmental bigots. Not such a bad thing, after all. Maybe you've prevented the same kind of pain for another youth, Aniya.

I can only hope a brighter reason will bloom from the aftermath of trauma. 

As the mother of an out lesbian child, you worry. You worry about the inaccurate voices unavoidably floating around your kid’s atmosphere, speaking lies to your child and telling them that they are weird or wrong just for being alive.

You hope they will be drowned out by voices of their own self-love, and the love of kind, empathetic others.

You worry they will want to stop fighting and, instead, begin to detest themselves for the fact that something so meaningless as their choice of an article of clothing — or any other means by which they choose to express themselves — can lead to such unintentionally dramatic circumstances.

You worry that, one day, everything they've ever had to hear about themselves will feel like it has become too much, and that they will do something to harm themselves for it, maybe even permanently.

And so, you beseech the universe. You try to make your love for your child the biggest cloak you can, in order to wrap them up in it. You pray to imbue it with the power of Teflon, so the slurs slide right off of them.

You wish you could heal their lingering hurt from past encounters with both well-meaning and non-well-meaning relatives who blurt out insults right to their faces and ask awkward questions in a bid to satisfy their morbid curiosity. The ones who crack jokes with no care for who they offend, even when your child is standing right there.

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You wonder, why does this even matter? What is the difference between anyone anywhere slipping a dress over their head as opposed to stepping into a pair of pants?

And I wonder, if Wolf was straight, would they have let her in, as long as the beau on her arm was a boy? Was it the visible affront to their heteronormative senses that their tiny little minds couldn’t handle?

So, I rage, in waves threatening to grow bigger, in order to wash away the adults who bully children out of their own insecurities. 

I adore Wolf's own mother, who must be feeling so much the same, who must be nursing a pit of black hurt and decay, and who will continue to do so for eternity — the duration of time that a mother’s love lasts.

As a parent, I want Lauren to be happy. I want my middle child, also gay, to be happy. I long for joy for my oldest boy, who is not gay. I hope he will know he is special because he is straight. Isn’t that something?

So my heart breaks for Wolf, her date, and her family. My mother bear roars for her, too, wanting to confront the adults who are supposed to nurture, love, and encourage her.

I smack my head at the belief they may have now that it's all okay now because she was welcomed to another prom.

But salve doesn’t restore a wound to the way that it was before. Salve may make the scar smaller, less noticeable, and less painful as it heals, but the scar still remains, carried on the body until the day you die.

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This was in 2016. I long to hear people say, “Gay rights? Why are we even talking about that? Big deal.”

Listen, unless you bend someone over on the conference table in front of me (without my consent as an onlooker), I could care less about your sexuality. No one is throwing anything in anyone’s face.

When my son announced he was gay, it seemed as though an equation in my mind had been solved. If this is what gay is, let him be gay. Gay is compassion, love, spark, ardor, passion, and acceptance. Gay is color, enthusiasm, wit, sport, courage, and love.

What a lovely existence, to be gay. My daughter chose to come out after a talk about why living as an authentic person is important and why soothing the rattled emotions of older relatives, conservatives and jerks was not her job, nor anyone else’s.

Her only job was to graciously receive love. So she did come out, and she cried as she did, and then she was relieved. Not that people knew, but that now, she could be herself.

She didn’t have to hide anymore. She didn’t have to explain decisions and undergo interrogations. What did that mean? What did this mean? Don’t you like this? Don’t you like that? Why?

No one — adult or child — owes anyone an explanation for their sexuality. It is never acceptable to wound people who are only trying to exercise their right to love and live privately in the name of ignorance.

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If you are confused, kindly apply this tactic (and I am speaking now to the haters, the doubters, the bullies, and the sanctimonious twats among us all). Ask yourself these three questions:

1. Will my speaking up hurt the person in front of me?

2. Will it hurt the person who is the subject of this conversation?

3. Am I about to give a dissertation on my life or on someone else’s?

If the answer to any of the above is "Yes," please keep your mouth shut — the answer to whatever you wanted to ask is clearly none of your business.

We can continue to argue about who has rights in this state or that state, and what gay people can do here or there, as if "those people" are not human. Because that is what we are forgetting.

Wolf, my daughter, their girlfriends, all of us — we are all human. Humans have a right to their choices, as long as they don’t hurt one another. Humans trying to live genuine lives, unharmed and secure in their convictions.

Aniya, I am reaching out to hug you and let you know this — I hope you are Teflon, honey. I hope you know your school is not a credible witness to your life. I hope you realize love is so strong that it incinerates all the ugly hearts.

I hope you know that people are fighting for you to dwell in peace.

I hope you know that other mothers, in addition to your own, are fed up with this, and we are joining forces to become a raging storm, a wall cloud of fury ready to defend our beautiful children.

I don't fear confrontation anymore. I don't quake as I stand to receive blows from the ignorant and unwilling.

I may whip back and forth in the storm, but I will never fall, as I am strengthened by love for my child and every other child who needs protection.

Aniya, your story joins that of legions of pioneers before you, and you have slammed their message of love and acceptance forward — again. That’s one hell of a momentous prom, kid.

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Hilary Lauren is the owner of J. Hill Marketing & Creative Services and a writer who focuses on family, relationships, and self-improvement. She has been featured in Medium, Good Men Project, Ravishly, and more.