TORONTO – A decade ago, Marc Hall was transformed from just another Oshawa high school student to the subject of one of the biggest news stories in the country. His simple wish to take his boyfriend to the prom sparked a media firestorm and legal challenge that, in turn, spawned the documentary Prom Fight: The Marc Hall Story and TV movie Prom Queen, starring Aaron Ashmore.
Hall’s story hasn’t been forgotten 10 years later – he was even recognized at a Canada Day event in London, England this summer.
“A group of people that I introduced myself to were like, ‘Wait a minute… Marc? From Oshawa? The prom guy?’ It was hilarious,” Hall, now 28, told Global News in an exclusive interview. “They were screaming about it and people around us started staring at me.”
Hall took the Durham Catholic District School Board to court in 2002 after the principal of Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic Secondary School refused to allow him to bring his then-boyfriend, Jean-Paul Dumond, to prom.
The case thrust the awkward blue-haired teen into the international media spotlight. “I was definitely not one to want to be the centre of attention,” says Hall. “I remember the first day the media swarmed the school. I looked outside and saw reporters and cameras everywhere. I was so scared that I actually ran to the back of the school and hid in a classroom.”
Hall says he became more comfortable as the face of gay equality when he realized the amount of support he had from other students, his parents Audy and Emily, and complete strangers. But he also remembers receiving so many death threats that he and his family needed police protection. “There were definitely some scary moments but fortunately it was just all talk.”
Hall describes the two-day court hearing as difficult. “I could not believe that I was taking on the school board, that I was actually pursuing legal action,” he recalls. “It did feel like it was too much, and there were times I was definitely doubting myself.”
On the day of the prom, Justice Robert McKinnon issued an injunction ordering the school to allow Hall to take the date of his choice to the prom.
After the prom
Hall and Dumond broke up shortly after the prom and Hall dropped the case against the school board in 2005 when he learned it would likely drag on for years. For the most part, he has put the experience behind him. “I’ll reminisce about it when people recognize me or I get invited to talks and things like that,” he says. “Otherwise, it is a part of my past as I’ve been focused on my schooling and career goals.”
After graduating from high school, Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Waterloo and then returned to his hometown to work as a teaching and research assistant at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Hall decided to do his graduate studies abroad.
Hall recently earned a Master of Science degree in cognitive neuroscience from University College London with a thesis that examined how memory suppression influences spatial tasks.
“I have always had a profound interest in the physiology and functions of the brain,” explains Hall, who says he doesn’t have immediate plans to pursue a Ph.D. “I would like to do something related to research and teaching. I really want to do neuropsychological testing on those who have suffered brain damage or brain degeneration. I want to end up doing something that would benefit others.”
Hall insists he has no regrets about challenging the Catholic school board and is grateful that he was able to change some attitudes and motivate young people. “If this happens to anyone else, at least they can bring up my case if they need to,” he says.
Losing his religion
Despite growing up in the Catholic school system, Hall admits he is no longer a religious person. “As I’ve grown and learned about the world, it’s just not something I believe in anymore,” he says. “This probably goes hand-in-hand with becoming a scientist.”
While an ocean away, Hall followed the debate over Gay-Straight Alliances in Ontario’s Catholic schools and was pleased to see the government implement legislation. “Teens need to know that they can get help if they are struggling with issues related to their sexuality, that they can find other LGBT people, and that they are not alone,” he says. “It’s ridiculous there was even a debate. And the fact that they wanted to use a word other than ‘gay’ is completely contradictory to having a group that is supposed to make people feel proud and comfortable with who they are.”
Hall’s message to gay teens today is a simple one. “Things really do get better,” he says. “The older you get and the more people you meet, the more you realize things aren’t so bad and lots of people are accepting. There are plenty of others who will understand you.”