Illinois high school stands up to bullies after district postponed LGBTQ+ musical

A scene from the 2020 film adaptation of The Prom.
A scene from the 2020 film adaptation of The Prom. Photo: MELINDA SUE GORDON/NETFLIX

An Illinois school district announced this week that it has reversed its decision to postpone a performance of a musical featuring LGBTQ+ themes.

On Thursday, District 300 superintendent Susan Harkin said that Hampshire High School’s production of The Prom will go ahead as planned this spring, following community backlash and an outpouring of support for students in response to the postponement, Chicago’s WBBM reported.

As the Los Angeles Blade reported, Harkin and District 300’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Adrian Harries met with Hampshire High School students on October 20, informing them that the musical had been canceled due to concerns over students’ safety.

School officials said they were “concerned about violence targeting the students in the show,” according to Hampshire High School alumni and Bradley University sophomore Maggie Little, who started a petition to get the district to reverse its decision.

Ironically, the Tony-winning Broadway musical centers around a high school’s decision to cancel its prom rather than allow a lesbian student to attend with her girlfriend.

On Monday, Harkin’s office released a statement clarifying that the April 2024 student performance of The Prom had been postponed rather than canceled, and that the district was reconsidering its decision, “contingent upon developing and implementing a comprehensive safety plan to ensure the safety of all students and staff.”

According to the statement, the initial decision had nothing to do with students’ “desire to demonstrate their school’s progress toward supporting the LGBTQ+ community.”

“Instead, the postponement reflected a concern held by our administrative team that the larger District 300 community may not be prepared to fully support this performance without risking potential harassment, bullying, and violence targeting our LGBTQ+ students, performers, staff, or community members,” the statement read. It went on to note that members of the local community have sought to out students involved in the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. The district had also received hate-filled emails and threats about its Day of Silence against bullying and its LGBTQ+ Learning Space meeting. The district also said the larger community has seen its LGBTQ+ population targeted with harassment.   

“Due to the seriousness of these circumstances and our concern for our students, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, the district believes a comprehensive safety plan must be in place before the musical can proceed,” the Monday statement read. “Hampshire High School and District 300 have started developing such a safety plan.”

Chicago’s NBC5 reported that students, parents, and members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies attended a Tuesday school board meeting to show support for the student production.

“After an outpouring of support from students and our school community, the district has reconsidered the initial decision,” Harkin wrote on Thursday. The district, she said, has developed a safety plan that will “extend beyond the scheduled performance dates.”

“The plan offers safeguards addressing a wide range of potential issues, including, but not limited to potential harassment, bullying, and violence targeting LGBTQ+ students, performers, staff and community members,” Harkin said. As part of that plan, Harkin said that members of the community could report information about threats to students’ and staff members’ safety to the “Safe School Tip Line” on the district’s website.

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