Australian teen banned from taking her girlfriend to prom

An all-girls private high school in Melbourne has decided to take a cue from Alabama, and has banned Hannah Williams, a sixteen-year-old student from attending her school formal with her girlfriend. In response, Hannah has filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her sexual identity, and she and her girlfriend, Savannah Supski, have moved to a new school together.

The school apparently told Hannah that she could attend the formal, but only with a male partner. In the lead-up to the event, Williams did everything she could to convince the school to let her take her girlfriend. “I put a lot of effort into trying to fix things,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I had meetings with principals; looked through the Equal Opportunity Act; all my friends put posters up around the school and the teachers ripped them down. There was an easy solution; they just needed to let me go with my girlfriend.”

The school certainly did come up with some interesting justifications for its position. According to the SMH:

The principal of Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar, Heather Schnagl, said the event did not discriminate against same-sex couples and was designed to promote a co-educational experience.

”I don’t think it’s appropriate they feel discriminated against, and I’m very upset they feel that,” she said.

”If we opened it up and said girls could bring another female they would all bring females; the policy is trying to create an event where boys are invited. We are a school that has an all-girls environment, and they are meant to invite guests, not partners.”

She said age was also an issue. ”It’s an event for year 11s and the student’s guest was in year 10.

Except that no one else’s date was excluded for being in a different grade. And I doubt very much that girls were banned from bringing male partners. Was there someone standing at the door checking that male dates were “guests, not partners”? Look, I understand the need for girls educated in a single-sex environment to learn to interact with boys (believe me, I get it; I spent six years of all-girls school). But why do you have to have an event where boys are invited? And if the girls all want to bring other girls – girl friends, girlfriends, whatever – why not? And if some bring female dates and some bring male ones, who cares?

Sounds like the school was being straight up homophobic, so I’m going to go ahead and say it was entirely “appropriate” for Williams and Supski to feel discriminated against (and it’s certainly not the principal’s place to tell them otherwise).

There is a bright side, though. Both girls appear to have loving, supportive parents who are willing to speak out about the way their daughters were treated. Williams’ father helped Hannah lodge her EOC complaint, and told the paper that the requirement that girls bring male dates “is anachronistic and creates feelings of discrimination among girls who are same-sex-attracted.” Supski’s mother supported her decision to change schools and said that “it It was a very difficult time for Savannah but she’s an amazingly strong young person and we are very proud of her.”

Supski is no doubt right in her assessment of Savannah’s character – both Savannah and Hannah are courageous young women who weren’t willing to compromise by going along with the school’s rules, choosing to speak out instead. And their parents deserve our respect and appreciation, too. It’s not easy to be the parent of a child who suffers discrimination for being different, and these parents are doing it right.

Photo: Angela Wylie for the Sydney Morning Herald

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3 Comments

  1. Posted November 12, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Oh, FFS. I am straight and still sometimes bring a friendgirl to events, because mostly things are more fun with a friend and I don’t have a SO to bring. Good to know I would’ve been banned for being bad at getting dates…

  2. Posted November 13, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    For that matter, if they wanted an event that was about male/female interaction, it’s not hard to create one. A lot of single-gender schools have a partner school; just create a mixed event. Even if there’s no partner school, just create a social event that’s not so focused on dating.

  3. Posted November 15, 2010 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    i agree with both above comments!
    we were banned from bringing same-sex dates to our formal as well, i went to a girl’s school in brisbane. they cited many of the same reasons as this school did, and yet we DID have other non date-oriented activities for us to interact with male students.
    unfortunately, we had no out gay students (though some have come out since – so it wasn’t a lack of gay students altogether – just a lack of a supportive environment to come out to, it seems), so we didn’t make a big deal out of it. our protest was to not bring any partner, but that was pretty futile.
    i thought it was really sad, and really put a dampener on the fun of the occasion.

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