After mixed messages, WHS to allow same-sex couples to attend prom

WORTHINGTON -- A pair of Worthington High School seniors will be able to attend prom this spring with their same-sex partners, WHS Principal Paul Karelis said Tuesday.

Stephanie Romero (left) and Randy Junker circulated a petition seeking support for same-sex couples attending prom.

WORTHINGTON - A pair of Worthington High School seniors will be able to attend prom this spring with their same-sex partners, WHS Principal Paul Karelis said Tuesday.
The issue surfaced after the teens began circulating a petition in the high school Tuesday morning, seeking support from fellow classmates on an issue Karelis said hadn’t previously come up.
Stephanie Romero and Randy Junker collected more than 100 signatures in just a few hours, and said students, for the most part, were supportive. Some wouldn’t sign the petition due to religious beliefs, and the teens said that was OK.
The prom issue arose in the school on Monday, when Junker commented on the social media site Facebook that he was discouraged students couldn’t go through the prom’s grand march - a prom event in which couples are introduced to the public - with a same-sex partner. The post generated several comments and even sparked anger among some adults about school policies based on apparent assumptions.
School officials say there’s never been a written rule to discourage same-sex couples from attending prom.
Worthington District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said Tuesday morning the students were making a public issue out of something before getting a formal answer from the school district. He said while he was not aware of any written rules preventing same-sex couples from attending prom, same-sex couples previously have not participated in the Grand March.
“As a superintendent, I have to make sure I’m following all legal obligations of the district,” Landgaard said, adding that he planned to talk to the school’s attorney next week to “make sure we’re doing things the right way.”

Meanwhile, Karelis met with both Romero and Junker Tuesday afternoon to say they would be able to participate in all prom activities with same-sex partners.
“When you look around the state of Minnesota and all over the United States, it’s an issue of kids wanting to bring their friends to prom,” Karelis said. “We’ve never fought that before. We’ve never really had a discussion of whether girls can go with girls.”
As far as Karelis is concerned, bringing a same-sex partner to prom is not an issue and the petition wasn’t necessary.
“I don’t even know … where this all came about,” he said. “If they want to walk (in the Grand March), they can walk,” he said. “I don’t see a problem with that.
“If they want to put that out there, that’s their choice,” he added.
For Junker, who announced he was gay during his sophomore year, and Romero, who revealed her bisexual status a few months ago and now has a girlfriend, Tuesday’s assurance by Karelis is welcome news.
“It’s a good thing,” Romero said, adding that she plans to keep the petition just in case something changes before the April 26 WHS prom.
“It’s not just for me, but for the future youth of Worthington,” added Junker. “I want to leave the high school … as someone who left their mark. I am gay - that’s the reason I really wanted to push for it.
“This isn’t middle school anymore and people aren’t going to judge me for who I am,” he added.
While Junker said he doesn’t currently have a boyfriend, he’s hoping to ask someone to prom this year.
“A lot of it was for my friends like Stephanie,” he said. “Getting to take her girlfriend would probably be very special since it’s her senior year.”
“People do accept each other for race and sexuality and who you are,” Romero added. “It’s good to get it out in the open.”
Superintendents at several area school districts said that while they haven’t had requests from students in the past to bring a same-sex partner to prom, they aren’t going to deny them admittance.
“We aren’t going to discriminate,” said Gary Fisher, Luverne Public Schools Superintendent. “The prom is a big deal. We want kids to come to prom whether they have a date or not.”
Fisher said in previous years, there have been instances where a male has escorted two females to the prom, or vice-versa. The school district does require students to complete a form if their date isn’t a student at Luverne. Essentially, Fisher said school officials want to know the date’s age and home school district.
“In the Midwest, it’s kind of a tough deal for someone to even disclose (their sexuality),” Fisher said. “As a school district, we’re not going to question it. It is what it is. I think we’re seeing a lot more liberal things in this day and age.”
Todd Meyer, superintendent at Jackson County Central Schools, said students there can bring whoever they want to prom. Luther Onken said Fulda Public School and Murray County Central don’t have anything in writing that would prevent same-sex couples from attending prom - at least not that he was aware of.
They, like Roger Graff, superintendent at Adrian Public Schools, said the issue of same-sex prom dates has never surfaced.
“If it ever did come up, we’re going to do what we have to,” Graff said. “We can’t discriminate.”

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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