Prom is supposed to be special for every student, but one high school senior from Nashville, Tenn., was left out entirely when they were refused entry for wearing a suit rather than a dress.
B Hayes, an 18-year-old, non-binary student at Nashville Christian School, said the school’s dress code disallowed them from wearing the all-black suit they arrived in at the event.
Hayes, who uses they/he pronouns, shared a photo of themselves standing outside the prom venue holding a sign that reads: “They wouldn’t let me in because I’m in a suit.”
In the photo’s caption, Hayes wrote: “My senior prom was today and i wasn’t allowed in the doors because i was wearing a suit. i should not have to conform to femininity to attend my senior prom. i will not compromise who i am to fit in a box. who are you to tell us what it means to be a woman?”
The photo, posted to Instagram on April 23, has since gone viral and triggered a mass wave of admiration for Hayes over their protest of the school’s dress code.
Nashville Christian School provided a statement to NPR claiming the school “has established dress requirements for daily school attendance and at our special events. All students and families are aware of and sign an agreement to these guidelines when they enroll.”
The school claimed the “expectations regarding appropriate prom attire were communicated to this student and the student’s family in advance of the prom.”
“While we certainly respect a student’s right to disagree, all of our students know from our school handbook that when they do not follow such expectations at school-sponsored events, they may be asked to leave.”
As per the Nashville Christian School handbook from the 2022-2023 school year, there are strict dress codes for “gentlemen” and “ladies” in the student body. Under the school’s code of conduct, the organization even provides definition for identity and identity expression.
“God created us as male or female, and we will live consistently with the gender God chose for us,” the school wrote in the student handbook. “These two different, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God.”
The student handbook also forbids event-goers from taking a date of the same gender or sex.
“It’s been amazing to see so many people share, like and comment on my post. I never imagined it would get this amount of attention,” Hayes told the Washington Post in an email.
The post especially caught the attention of a Nashville woman who was moved by Hayes’ story and wanted to help. As a co-owner of a local music venue, AB Hillsboro Village, Marcie Allen Van Mol suggested Hayes have a separate prom there.
“It just really upset me that this child was not allowed to attend their prom because they weren’t wearing a dress. It is that simple of an issue. And it’s not OK,” Van Mol told NPR. “When we saw this we felt that it was really important to step up and use our platform to create a safe place for B to celebrate their prom.”
Van Mol put out a local call for help. The reaction was explosive.
Several vendors in the area agreed to pitch in for everything from decor to a photo booth and music. R&B artist Tone Stith agreed to perform at the private prom, which will host Hayes and 25 of their friends.
Van Mol also created a GoFundMe page to help fund the reclaimed prom, which as of this writing, has garnered over US$28,500. Any capital left over from the donations will be given to the charities Inclusion Tennessee and Oasis Center, which Hayes selected personally.
Van Mol met with Hayes on Tuesday and shared a photo to Instagram.
“We were able to meet B in person today, and now we’re even more pumped to do this for them! What an amazing human,” she wrote.
She thanked all those who donated to the GoFundMe page, writing, “We love that we are able to support so many small, local businesses in this wonderful event.”
“Knowing that not only the Nashville community is behind me but people all over the country are supporting the issue is incredible to see,” Hayes told the Washington Post in an email. “I hope the awareness can bring about positive change and that more students in the future feel strong enough to stand up for freedom of expression.”
For now, though, Hayes just hopes to enjoy the rest of their senior year.