Devin Randall's picture

Two Ontario School Districts Cut Funding For A Play About A Gay Couple's Fight To Go To Prom

Two school boards in Southwestern Ontario decided to take away the funding for a local youth theatre program.

Specifically, the youth theatre program is called the Grand Theater’s High School Project. The members of the London, Ontario program were sad when the Thames Valley District School Board and the London Catholic District School Board cut $30,000 of funding because they didn’t support the production of the play Prom Queen.

“This is a Canadian musical about true events that happened to high school students, when one boy stood up and said, ‘I can make a difference in the world,’ and (succeeded),” Grand Theatre artistic director Dennis Garnhum said to The Toronto Star, “This is a very celebratory piece.”

Prom Queen tells the true story of Marc Hall. Hall went to a school in Oshawa, Ontario and succeeded in sueing the Durham Catholic District School Board in 2002 over the right to bring a male date to prom.

The two school districts who pulled their funding from the program used the excuse that they’re concerned about the language and portrayals in the play’s script (which partially uses dialogue from the actual court transcripts).

“(It features) a lot of derogatory terms for gay people and profanity found throughout that, quite frankly, if students used that language on the playground they would be suspended,” said Thames Valley District School Board chair Matt Reid.

“There were other more alarming aspects including having a priest blackmail a student... and having a teacher betray the student and lie (in court) under oath.”

That said, the districts don’t want people to think that they are being homophobic. In fact, Reid, who’s gay himself, doubled down on the play's questionable language and portrayal of adults being the reason that the funding was cut.

“The portrayal of adults in the script is not consistent with our approach and belief in the critical and caring roles that our adults play in the lives of our students.”

In addition, he’s concerned that younger viewers, like the elementary schoolers who often take trips to see the High School Project shows, would not be able to see the performance.

“I want students to be exposed to the theatre and have a love for the arts, but there would be too many parents who would have too many issues with the way (the story) is being portrayed,” Reid said.

That said, program director Garnhum still defends the play.

“(The play”) uses derogatory terms like ‘faggot’ to make a point,” Garnhum said. “This is a play about being called a faggot... I’m sure students in schools across North America use the word. The way you erase that is by identifying it.”

Luckily, an online crowdfunding campaign emerged and raised $40,000 to support the production which is scheduled for September.

h/t: The Toronto Star