Group's plans for 'traditional-only' couples' prom gets reaction worldwide
It took just 24 hours for a story about a local group’s plans for a so-called “traditional prom” to go viral on the Internet via social media, blogs and news organizations nationwide.
Most are reacting to a news story aired on Sunday by WTWO, where the Farmersburg-based television news station interviewed folks at the alternative prom’s planning committee meeting at Sullivan First Christian Church. Since, the story has spawned to multiple Internet sites, including the well-known online news organization The Huffington Post, as well as blogs, including that of prominent relationship and sex advice columnist Dan Savage.
“I imagine queer kids growing up in Sullivan, Indiana, population 4,249, have it hard enough without having to watch (expletive) like this on the evening news,” Savage wrote Sunday on slog.thestranger.com.
Word of a gay couple, or couples, attending the Sullivan High School prom and participating in grand march began circulating rapidly in January when a student-led petition was passed around school requesting that homosexual students be allowed to attend. But school officials told the Times last week that the petition was misguided in that no student has ever been denied that right. They also stopped its circulation, reportedly, because it was disrupting the educational process.
Since then, a group of local adults and youth organized to create a prom for “traditional couples” only, saying they are choosing to not be a part of a school function that goes against their beliefs.
Meanwhile, some of the information floating around on the Internet following Sunday’s story is inaccurate, but overall reaction to the alternative prom group’s efforts has been negative.
While the group’s Facebook page “2013 Sullivan Traditional Prom” has been either deleted or hidden, at least two other Facebook groups have been created since the story aired and have gotten quite the following.
One of them, “Support the Sullivan High School Prom for All Students,” had garnered 6,000 likes in less than 24 hours and had 12,312 at press time. Its creator, Lori Johnson of Vincennes, said she started the page because the issue “hit home.”
“It just bothered me,” she said. “I feel like those types of actions are what drives kids to be scared and kids to commit suicide.
“I certainly think people have the right to their own beliefs, but I just couldn’t imagine how I might feel if I were a student at that school who was gay or who thought I might be gay and think these kids don’t even want to come to prom with me...”
Another site, “Everyone Deserves To Go To Prom,” was created by Indianapolis resident Jay Michaels, a former Terre Haute resident and 100.7 Mix FM radio host. On it, he links to a petition he created that asks Northeast School Corp. for “appropriate disciplinary action to (one of its educators) Mrs. (Diana) Medley...”
Medley’s comments to WTWO reporter Paige Preusse during Sunday’s “traditional prom” meeting caught Michaels and many others off guard.
During that interview, Medley said she believes gay people weren’t “born that way” and that it’s a “choice” they make. She also, when asked if she believed gays have purpose in life, responded, “I don’t. I personally don’t. I’m sorry. I just ... I don’t understand it.”
Medley is a teacher in NESC, not Southwest School Corp., which governs Sullivan High School. Many online reports incorrectly say she is a teacher at Sullivan.
The Times has also received reports that some of the quotes were taken out of context, but nonetheless, those latter words were lamented on many blogsites and in discussions on social media. The Twittersphere was sent abuzz with reaction from throughout the nation, including that from international tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who is a lesbian. Also Monday, television news stations from Terre Haute to Indianapolis were in town interviewing people about the story.
Meanwhile, Medley also said in the interview that she believes God made everyone equal.
“I have kids come to me because of their sexual preference, and they know I don’t agree with it, but I care about you,” she said. “And the same thing for special needs. You know, God’s put those people in our life for different reasons.
“A gay student or adult or person isn’t going to come up and make some change unless it’s because they realize, ‘You know what? It was a choice, and I’m choosing God,’” she continued.
Medley was not available for comment on Monday.
NESC Superintendent Mark Baker said in a statement on Monday his district has never denied any student the right to attend prom or any other district-sponsored event because of race, gender or sexual orientation.
“In regards to the story that WTWO aired on February 10, 2013, The Northeast School Corporation employee that was interviewed was expressing her First Amendment rights,” the statement reads. “The views expressed are not the views of the Northeast School Corporation and/or the Board of Education.
“The Northeast School Corporation is a public school where all students have equal rights and access to all programs.”
As for Michaels, who is openly gay, he said he remembered teachers being supportive of his sexual orientation and couldn’t imagine a situation like the one in Sullivan County. He suggested educators utilize groups like Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) that provide workshops and training on how to deal with the bullying of gay and lesbian students in school.
The alternative prom group, meanwhile, has continuously stressed that they are not a “hate group.”
“We do not hate anyone, we are not judging anyone,” Aryadney J. Doffing wrote on the group’s Facebook page before it was removed. “We are choosing to stand on the word of God. The bible says the truth will set you free. All we can do is stand for what we believe and let God do the rest. We will not judge or hate anyone for their choice. We simply choose the entire word of God. The unchanging living word of God. (God) is the same yesterday, today and forever” (sic).
Group member Tonya Bedwell also discussed the recent media reports on the Facebook page.
“With all the media and stuff going on now let us keep in mind that we are to be loving to all and to be in prayer so Satan doesn’t get in to divide,” she wrote.
About 35 people attended that group’s meeting on Sunday, including students who spoke publicly with the television news station.
After the meeting, Bonnie McCammon wrote on the Facebook wall that the “traditional prom” will be on April 27 — the same day as the SHS prom — at the Downtown Gym in Sullivan. She wrote that there will be a grand march, a dance with catered food, a DJ and a post prom trip.
McCammon also wrote that there will be more meetings and that an account has been set up at a local bank for donations.
The Sullivan County Clergy Association is not commenting on the matter, according to John Moyer, its president. Sullivan First Christian Church and the alternative prom group previously reported that the church allowed the group to meet there but did not endorse it.