A quiet Indiana community known for its parks and corn festival has become the latest setting for the debate over gay rights and bullying after several area residents, including some high schoolers, proposed holding a non-school sanctioned “traditional” prom that would ban gay students.
School officials and many residents of Sullivan, a city of about 4,200 near the Illinois border, have scrambled to distance themselves from the controversy caused by the group’s plans and some strong, anti-gay remarks made by one of its members.
Diana Medley, a group member who is a special- education teacher in another school district, said she believes being gay is a choice people make and that gays have no purpose in life.
“I just ... I don’t understand it,” Medley said, referring to whether homosexuals have a purpose in life. She was speaking to Terre Haute television station WTWO at a Sunday planning meeting for the anti-gay dance.
Medley’s comments have been widely circulated on social-networking sites and in news coverage of the story and have led to online campaigns to get her fired. A petition on Change.org calling for her dismissal had generated more than 18,000 signatures from as far away as the United Kingdom as of Friday, and a Facebook page supporting a prom that includes all students had more than 27,000 likes.
David Springer, the principal of Sullivan High, said talk of the “traditional” prom began in January after a student began circulating a petition demanding that gays be allowed to participate in the grand march at Sullivan’s April 27 prom. The grand march is when couples are presented at the dance.
Springer said Sullivan High’s official prom is the only prom the school supports and that it doesn’t exclude anybody, including gay couples.
He said the school, which has 545 students in grades nine-12, has never banned same-sex pairs from attending the prom.
“I don’t know how you can have a dance and exclude certain people,” he said.
Some critics say Medley’s statements and the campaign to hold the “traditional” prom speak to a larger climate in which gay students fear being bullied and aren’t welcome.