My family members won’t be attending segregated proms

African America teen in prom dress with her mother who is sitting in a wheelchair

Asiza ready for senior prom with Carrie

My daughters (aged 17-25) were invited 1 to a segregated prom, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.2 The premise of this event is appalling.

Teen sitting in a wheelchair with a short red gown and another teen in a burgundy gown kneeling next to her

Heather junior prom

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.

African-American teen with updo and cream colored long gown

Asiza junior prom

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.

Teen in wheelchair with black and white gown with long gloves

Heather senior prom

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.


  1. 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.
  2. note I use so as to not improve their search engine rankings.
  3. 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.
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  1. The fact that you condone a dance but cannot fathom a prom is nothing but a huge hypocrisy based on semantics. Shocking.

  2. The issue is calling it prom. Prom is a singularly teenager event. It is not something adults do (Unless they are high school teachers). Yes it is about semantics because language matters. I would no more want to go to a prom at my age than my adult offspring.

  3. Andrew Fry says:

    Having volunteered at this event the last 2 years I think you are mistaken on the intention and also what happens. I witnessed many couples at the event together. Witnessed many acts of normal teen/young adult love occurring. No one was demanding it to stop or cease. Also no bible thumping occurred or religious music. Just some YMCA, Silento and other pop music for everyone to enjoy. While held at a church no one was evangelizing the event. Lastly while your children have had the pleasure of attending Proms while they were in school some of the guests did not have that experience. Parents of guests much older than 26 expressed many times that their child did not have this opportunity in school. The joy on the faces of the guests and also the parents/guardians still sits with me. If part of the problem is the use of the term “Prom” and those implications I can understand that as it is your point of view and opinion. I would just say again that not everyone has had those chances or experiences as your family both now or in the past. I am sorry if it offended you (even though I am not an orginator of the event) as a supporter of the event.

  4. I totally agree with your view of the “event” as with all segregated, infantilizing events. But then you knew I would. I am also not surprised that the supporters don’t understand what you said – by virtue of being supporters of such segregated nonsense, anyone’s objecting would likely result in major cognitive dissonance for them.

  5. I agree with you too. As a person with a disability that was taught to be self respecting, i would have found a segregated prom demeaning. Also you are spot on with your reading of the messages being sent to these kids.

    Sorry about the antipathy that you are getting from the supporters of segregation

  6. As an autistic person of color who not only went to prom but also helped set up prom as class president, the whole idea of a segregated prom for disabled HS seniors is not only downright wrong, but also pointless. I’m all down from dancing with my fellow PWDs, don’t get me wrong. But as long as you let us grind and dance and to same music as everyone else. Not 50s music and especially not be denied to choose your own dates. Once you take the independence from a prom, then it’s more of an kindergarten dance. We have already suffered enough with feeling imprisoned and bullied at school. Prom is supposed to be a night of freedom and fun…and once step closer to adulthood and graduation. Make it inclusive for all students. It’s not that hard.

    Also I’m shocked that Tim Tebow, out of all people, would sponsor such event through his org. O know that he wants to be a good guy and help people; I’m not knocking him for it. However, I don’t think creating segregated proms in a very scripted and controlling environment would do justice to the disability community. Especially if the people there are treated more like kids than adults and teens, depending on the age of the person going to those proms.

  7. I have no problem with segregated proms and events for our community..if done right… amd it should allow for choice and it should alsob e open for ”normies” too… noit be exclusive for disabled only… and itshould not be our only choice either… BUT….i DO HAVE a problem with how they are run….as I they are done like ”a aww bless your heart charity! ” That crap needs to stop! But we should have rights to chosen segregation, that can mean being with our peers fellow gimp community. our language, our culture.. to relax and be ourselves…. and the segregation can be a. Good thing if the disabled proms are set up in a more sensory friendly way,this will enable many many peers, autistic, aspie, epileptics, folks with visual or what ever enjoy te prom! ..many of us period cannot handle the extra loud flashy strobing pounding promds and other events… and alotof normal folks too– ewould beifit fora calmer version too… many normals dotn like all that mess…….but the attendees need to be seen and given opportunity to find a date. and have a realtionship.. ( gay or straight) never assume…. And help them meet folks that might become a genuine date !! dont partner up people with some doo good er volunteer….. that’s so stupid..and fake, non genuine !!….. And EVERYBIDY gets crowned ?! No! That takes the value away when everybody gets a crown!….or when .everybody is a winner. At a sport event ( cough cough special Olympics )…. Making everybody a winner does NOT make everybody equal or valued!

  8. Jennifer Campbell says:

    I’m actually ashamed you would post this and I really hope Tim doesn’t see it. First and foremost…and I will all-cap it so that everyone really gets the point – INCLUSION IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. That’s right. There are a lot of people with disabilities who cannot handle a typical school setting no matter how many adjustments and/or accommodations. Funny that most “inclusionalists” I meet typically have young kids. Yes, everything looks so promising in the beginning but then as your child grows you realize that they are an individual and that you may be sacrificing their education for the “greater good”. I have seen others who did not realize that and their kids are obviously suffering because of it. And I have seen some where it works – but they are a small percentage.

    So moving on with that in mind – some kids don’t get to experience a “prom” and that is a special milestone for many kids and adults alike. So what about the adults with disabilities who always dreamed of going to prom but never had the opportunity?

    These kids can go and enjoy themselves AS themselves. They can bring a date (seriously – how can you even write an article like this if you have never attended an event). My son hasn’t yet – but I hope he’ll have the opportunity. Tebow donates a ton of money, attention and his time just to give our kids this opportunity – so now we wanna kick him for it (even though you have never attended one)? Hmmm….maybe he has a hidden agenda….maybe he gets a leg up in the NFL for charity work. Maybe he is making a fortune selling t-shirts there or he is trying to recruit everyone to Christianity by just simply walking like a Christian instead of just talking like one. Oh, and one last thought on inclusion – they do involve a lot of typical teens and adults in the event. Is that not a type of “inclusion”?

    Please – stop being so close-minded and honestly get a grip. If Tim is reading this (assuming she allows this comment to be shown at all) please know that some of us do appreciate what you are doing.

  9. Great point in being sensory friendly.

    I volunteered at this event, and therefore can actually speak to what it’s about.

    We took special care to have no fluorescent lighting, pounding bass and flashing lights because some of our guests couldn’t handle it. We had no calling signs as well. We tried to make it as comfortable and sensory friendly as possible.

    Also, a previous poster mentioned 50’s music. Is that when the Whip Nae Nae came out?

  10. awesome stacy fry.. that is great !! 😉 and yes 50s and 60s music is a plus.. that plastic pop stuff is sickening… the doo wop, motown, and early rock, smooth reggae, and similar is great for parties cause i even if its not your fav… most folks still enjoy it and its music that young and old as a whole can and do enjoy

  11. Society already segregates special needs kids and I get pushing for inclusion on some things however fact is our kids just are not able to do some of the things “typical” kids can do. It irritates me to know end that people bitch about something good! It may not be good for every child with special needs ok great then don’t go but don’t bash it if it works for many other kids….. So stupid!

  12. What I think is most important is to offer both! A typical prom/dance at the school that child attends AND offer things like night to shine for those that, that environment would be better for THAT child… All kids are different and to be able to choose the best setting for our children is most important not putting down a program that is only trying to help some enjoy a dance isn’t helpful or positive in any way.

  13. mom of am included daughter says:

    My daughter has attended this event for the past two years…it is not infantile or degrading in any way. If my daughter wanted a buddy they had folks available to spend the evening dancing and taking pictures etc with her. Tons of adults, teens to be a buddy if needed, Our Tim Tebow prom had people ages 14-46 and probably older. I didn’t know the older folks but I knew the 14 year old and the 46 year old. Lots of diversity and lots of laughter, music and just a great time. It is a safe,well organized event. I dislike it so that people slam things that may not be their cup of tea. Let people make their own decisions. I have had friends praise the same event in Pittsburgh, and my friends volunteered in Johnstown, PA. My daughter will be going to her senior prom next month, she has gone to homecoming dances is a varsity cheerleader and competes with the team that made it to the state semi finals….she is included as much as she can be and can handle. NOT all kids can handle inclusion to the extent my daughter can. Some may never handle being in an inclusive environment for a number of reasons. Inclusion is specific to each individual person. Don’t judge the good that this foundation is doing for the special needs community. If my daughter had to pick which “prom” she would go to hands down it would be the Tebow prom. She is most comfortable with her friends that have needs like or similar to her. She has tons of typical friends, they text, call and even invite her to do things, but in the end she loves and is most comfortable in her community of sn friends. If she is okay with that then so am I. I know I have advocated for her to have whatever world she wants to be in. She can thrive in both. Some that are at these proms can’t and never will thrive in an inclusive environment. Don’t take this one night of joy and fun away from them.