Recently, in the small southern Indiana town of Vincennes a local committee comprised of high school parents and students voted 13-9 to maintain a decade long policy requiring "traditional couples only" for their "private, invitation only" New Years Eve Ball.
The 13-9 vote to maintain the policy was brought to light in a Huffington Post article (read here) that went viral. Among other things it asks: "Why exclude LGBT student-couples?"
Afterwards, the once amiable community found itself embattled in controversy. Long time neighbors and friends suffered hurt feelings, anger and rage. Many community members and students felt "attacked" by their lifelong friends. Social media exploded with accusations and indictments. Character assassins on Facebook and Twitter fired left and right, top to bottom. However, those few vitriolic voices were drowned out by the overwhelming live local and social media response from the community and the nation: a collective message of inclusion, affirmation, acceptance and love.
The world was watching. Local residents (read one mother's plea here) and Vincennes Lincoln High School alumni from around the country as well as celebrity Ellen Page and Grey's Anatomy star Sara Ramirez reached out via Twitter and Facebook to lend their support to Lincoln's current student population--both gay and straight--voicing their solidarity for an all-inclusive New Years Eve Ball.
The ball committee changed their vote after the article's publication and removed the words "traditional couples only" from the invitations. Now, according to the local newspaper, Lincoln High School LGBT students that receive an invitation, and who choose to attend, will no longer be forced to pair with someone of the opposite sex to qualify as a "traditional couple."
Nevertheless, the undulation from my hometown's divisiveness was felt in my adopted hometown of Miami, Florida. Fellow Lincoln High School alumna Andrea Ridgway reached out to me on Facebook from her California home. She'd felt the ripples too. Andrea and I had never met. She and I graduated from Lincoln almost a decade apart. After reading my HuffPo article she started a gofundme campaign.
Messaging back and forth via Facebook, Andrea and I decided that together we'd combine our social media voices to support all students at our beloved alma mater and throughout the county by using her campaign to raise funds and host an all-inclusive, open and affirming hometown celebration.
Together, with NOH8 Campaign's assistance in facilitating national awareness alongside our "boots on the ground" backing from Vincennes University's VUPRIDE, we want to host a #NOH8Ball4All--an open and inclusive spring 2015 dance for 9-12 graders (county high school students too!) plus a community awareness information fair. In other words, we hope to host in one day an afternoon of education followed by an evening of celebration!
YOU can help the #NOH8Ball4All campaign!
The power of social media served as an agent of change and it connected Andrea and me. Our efforts captured the attention of NOH8. (Check out "NOH8 in my ST8" here.) Now, collectively, we want to connect and share our campaign with you!
Our common goal is to raise enough funds to host the #NOH8Ball4All at the Red Skelton Performing Arts Center on the campus of Vincennes University. But we need your help!
By donating to the #NOH8Ball4All you too will lend your voice and support for southern Indiana LGBT and straight teens by allowing them the opportunity to celebrate diversity in addition to bringing awareness to the community. Let's show the world there is NOH8 in Vincennes. Check out the www.gofundme.com/ball4all!
Post, tweet or send messages of support to southern Indiana LGBT students and their straight allies using #NOH8Ball4All or by joining the public Facebook group Vincennes #NOH8Ball4All and following J. Patrick Redmond on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.