The event is called a Night to Shine, and it is a segregated prom for teens and adults aged 16-26. It is set for Valentines Day weekend so that these older teens and adults can experience God’s love for special needs people. Each person is assigned a “companion” for the night (and no contemplation that the individual will have their own romantic partner), and everyone is crowned king or queen at the end of the night.
I am not opposed to disability segregated dances. Dances at disability related conferences are extraordinarily fun. I enjoy them. My kids love them too. They loved their dances at summer camp for that reason. They are a chance to get our freak on, so to speak, with people who get us, get our disabilities, and who celebrate our disabled bodies. Had this simply been a segregated Valentines Day Dance, it would have been fine with me. This is so much more insidious in it’s anti-disability message.
First, Prom is almost singularly a school related event.3 There is no reason to have a segregated prom. My kids have gone to prom in each of their junior and senior years (and my 17 year will go to junior prom this year). I push my school district to ensure that special education is not a place, but rather a service delivery option. My kids have been supported to participate in sports, marching band, attending football, volleyball and basketball games. They are supported to attend dances with their peers. I don’t even have to ask. Someone is there whenever there is an event like that to support them. If the kid decides at 5 pm to go to the 8 pm dance that night, I know there will be support for her. Likewise, there is support for prom. At any rate, my 20 and 25 year olds have no business going to prom, especially when they have graduated from high school, and are in the community doing having adult lives. They do not need to infantalized with the notion of prom.
If a high school kid is not going to prom, why the heck not? If the school is saying no, parents get your advocacy cap on, buy the dress, rent the tuxedo, pay for the flowers, or nails, and drive your kid to the dance and tell them to have a great time. Your kids will have fun, send them to the dance. There is no reason why they can’t go have that 2 times in a lifetime school experience. No, they don’t need a date, many of the kids there won’t have one. You will pick them up a few hours later, they will be exhausted, but they will have fun. If your kid doesn’t want to go, then don’t make them, but also don’t make them go to some fake prom event intended to devalue them.
These Night to Shine events devalue older teens and young adults. They are held on Valentines Day weekend so that these adults and near adults can have the focus of God’s love on them. The implication is that these adult and near adults shouldn’t be experiencing romantic love (and heartache, and all the other messy stuff that goes into navigating romantic relationships as young and not-so-young adults). They lose the dignity of learning from relationship, the good and bad.
My daughters are stripped of their sexuality by these events. There isn’t a contemplation that my girls would bring their own girl or boyfriends. The whole thing is heterosexual oriented, marginalizing those who are queer. Kids are not encouraged to have age appropriate displays of affection. What is socially appropriate for a 16-18 year old is very different from what is socially appropriate for an adult. As adults, I would expect my daughters to be more engaged in Dirty Dancing than Footloose. They should be on OKC, and snapchatting their girlfriends and boyfriends, and whatever the latest thing is that I am too old to know about. All three should be exploring their sexuality, and at an event more about promoting God’s love rather than human relationships, that won’t be happening.
If a church wants to promote their version of God’s love, then do so, for all teens and young adults. Don’t be segregating disabled teens and adults, and singling them out for denigrating treatment.
- They received “invites” to this overtly religious event from both their school (in the case of the 17 year old) and my Town’s recreation center. The school had a very appropriate apology for inadvertently – in their case – promoting this event. The town, not so much, which will be the source of continuing action on my part. ↩
- note I use donotlink.com so as to not improve their search engine rankings. ↩
- Of course in some parts of the country proms are segregated by race, and school proms are not always a safe place for queer teens. ↩