By Jason Menard
Tonight, students from across the city of London will gather together to celebrate the end of their high school years and look forward to the future.
And let me be amongst the first to apologize to them.
You see, this isn’t some collective prom celebrated by all students from high schools around the city. Nor is it an all-inclusive prom where students who have spent four or five years walking the same halls together get to share one last experience. Instead, tonight’s Pride Prom will be a gathering of LGBT students who, due to society’s collective ignorance, can’t enjoy the same experiences that their heterosexual classmates get.
Pride Prom, like homosexuality itself, is not about choice. Pride Prom has been made necessary due to ignorance. Instead of being able to share that last dance to some cheesy love song in the company of their friends and classmates, LGBT students have to have that moment in the company of relative strangers at a night club downtown.
Instead of being able to join their classmates in celebration, these students have to make other arrangements due to the fact that there’s still too much rampant ignorance amongst their so-called peers to allow them to feel safe within their own community.
Ideally, two men or two women could attend prom together with their friends and fear nothing more than an embarrassing slip-up on the dance floor. Instead, they’d have to fear ignorant comments, sideways looks, and even violence simply because of whom they love.
Unfortunately, this is simply par for a very ignorant and offensive course. Despite our youth being exposed to a wider range of lifestyles, backgrounds, and cultures than ever before, sexuality remains the one thing that students are comfortable with being uncomfortable about.
There are the jokes; there are the snide comments; there’s the ostracizing behaviour. And while schools pay lip service to anti-bullying and acceptance, there’s precious little being done to enforce those attitudes.
And it’s pervasive. Perhaps because sexuality is such a scary issue as teens learn who they are, they feel the need to assert their own masculinity and femininity in unhealthy ways. Even those who should know better, don’t.
In our family, we have gay family members and friends – people who have been in our lives for years. My wife and I preach tolerance and understanding of all races, religions, and lifestyles. We judge the people in our lives by their actions, not by with whom they spend their lives. Unfortunately, peer pressure and the desperate clinging to the social ladder wins out over basic humanity.
Texts, Facebook posts, and other comments between high school boys are rife with “fag” and accusations of being gay. The fear of emasculinization is so great that even innocuous comments like, “Hey, you’re pretty cool” have to be followed by a stupid (and betraying of lack of confidence in one’s sexuality), “no homo.”
And the worst thing is that these kids don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s just a saying. Everyone does it. It’s not putting anyone down, after all.
No, nobody but the kids who have to stay in the closet for fear of exposure to this culture. We have friends who have fled their home countries because they were being threatened with violence due to their sexuality – they lived in places where being branded a “fag” was tantamount to a death sentence. But, of course, words never hurt anybody.
I thought our society was better. I thought the mainstreaming of LGBT lifestyles would have an impact. We grew up in an Age of Ignorance, where lack of understanding of AIDS and gay lifestyles led to horrible jokes borne of fear and ignorance. I thought today’s kids would get it.
Instead, things aren’t changing – and what makes it worse is that today’s kids know better. They’re exposed to anti-bullying messaging; they watch TV shows with gay characters; and, likely, they’re exposed to more and more gay people in their lives than previous generations.
And if these are only “words” and they don’t mean anything, then why is there a Pride Prom? These students’ fears are not imaginary – they’re based upon everyday, real-life experiences.
Pride Prom has been running for five years now and that’s five years too long. Sadly, these kids are being robbed of a memory that other students take for granted, and the worst part is that those who are robbing them are either unaware of their crimes – or, more likely, they simply don’t care.
Here’s wishing that the students who attend tonight’s Pride Prom do so with their heads held high, enjoying every moment, and create lasting, positive, memories. Prom is about looking forward to the future. For the attendees of Pride Prom, they can look forward to going to a broader community that tends to be more accepting than high school.
However, for the rest of the students who have created a culture where these LGBT kids can’t feel comfortable celebrating with their own community, pride should be the last thing they feel.