LIKE many teenagers, Amelia Trickey is excited about an imminent formal, planning to glam up in a red gown and teetering stilettos.
The 16-year-old from Glen Waverley is thinking of inviting a girl she’s keen on but they won’t be going to her own private school’s formal.
While the religious, conservative co-ed school outwardly supports equality, her hunch is it would create chaos to ask to bring a girlfriend. When she told teachers about this article, she was asked not to name the school.
The one instance where a gay couple attended Amelia’s school’s formal — before she came to the school — has become part of school lore. ‘‘ It was people making snide comments , like, ‘Look, they’re hooking up, two girls, oh my god.’ ’’
Instead, on April 14, Amelia is going to the Same Sex Formal.
The first, held two years ago as part of National Youth Week, was the idea of Micah Scott, general manager of the queer youth organisation Minus18.
Mr Scott said that often schools publicly state they’re supportive, ‘‘ but when they’re in a private room, they say to the student, ‘we’d prefer you not to’ .’’
In 2008, Brisbane’s exclusive Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie) banned same-sex partners from its year 12 formal, and in 2010 Ivanhoe Girls Grammar forbade a 16-year-old from taking her girlfriend to its year 11 formal.
Mr Scott expected 100 people , aged 14 to 21, to come to the first Same Sex Formal, but it sold out at 250 tickets.
This year, at the event, partly funded by the Yarra Council, 300 people will drink mocktails, enjoy a choir performance over dinner, then hit the dance floor.
Singles are welcome. If the teen can’t afford a ticket, there is a scheme in which a sponsor will pay for them. Mr Scott said there will be candles, flowers and romantic lighting. ‘‘ It’s enchanting.’’ He said that in 2010, a lesbian couple, 17, who hadn’t felt comfortable going to their high-school formal, had a slow dance before the rest of the crowd got up to dance, to the song (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.
A mother told Mr Scott her son, 15, had made friends at the formal and was happy, for the first time, after years of being bullied for being gay.
Edward McAndrew, 18, says he didn’t go to his small co-ed state school’s year 11 formal because, after regular schoolyard verbal and physical bullying , he felt unsafe.
He went to the year 12 formal with his boyfriend out of defiance , but they were seated at a big table with only a few other people on it, and classmates glared at them. ‘‘ There was a very unwelcoming air,’’ he says.
At the 2010 Same Sex Formal, however, he felt completely at home. ‘‘ Instead of being ‘that gay kid’ I was just Edward, just me.’’
Roz Ward, co-ordinator of the Safe Schools Coalition, tackling homophobia in schools, said unless schools spell out in newsletters that same-sex couples are welcome to formals, ‘‘ they are implicitly saying they’re not’’ .
Same Sex Formal tickets, $35 a head, go on sale from February 13 through minus18.org.au.
Copyright © 2012 Fairfax Media