1. Aaron Fricke wanted to take his friend Paul Guilbert to Rhode Island’s Cumberland High School prom in 1980. The principal would not allow it.
Aaron filed suit for the right to attend prom with his male date. “I feel I have the right to attend,” he told the judge. “I feel I want to go to the prom for the same reason any other student would want to go.” Soon Aaron was physically bullied at school, to the point he needed stitches on his face. It was just one year earlier, in 1979, that Paul Guilbert had attempted to take a male friend to prom and was not permitted. He did not attend the prom at all.
In the U.S. District Court suit, Judge Raymond J. Pettine ordered the school to not only allow Aaron and Paul to attend the prom as dates, but to provide enough security to ensure their complete safety. The Court decided that “even a legitimate interest in school discipline does not outweigh a student’s right to peacefully express his views in an appropriate time, place, and manner.” Today, this case is often cited in same-sex prom disputes all over the country.
2. Aaron wrote of the special night in a personal essay:
The crowd receded. As I laid my head on Paul’s shoulder, I saw a few students start to stare at us. I closed my eyes and listened to the music [Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got the Night”], my thoughts wandering over the events of the evening. When the song ended, I opened my eyes. A large crowd of students had formed a ring around us. Probably most of them had never seen two happy men embracing in a slow dance. For a moment I was uncomfortable.
Then I heard the sound that I knew so well as a B-52s fan. One of my favorite songs was coming up: “Rock Lobster.”
Paul and I began dancing free-style. Everyone else was still staring at us, but by the end of the first stanza, several couples had also begun dancing. The song had a contagious enthusiasm to it, and with each bar, more dancers came onto the floor.
3. People magazine wrote of the night in 1980:
Before the dance had even begun, the evening was tense. Police kept reporters and photographers at bay outside while tight-lipped chaperons watched for trouble on the dance floor. Fricke, wearing an electric-blue tux, and Guilbert, in formal black, were driven to the dinner dance at the nearby Pleasant Valley Country Club by a member of the Rhode Island Gay Liberation Task Force. A protective phalanx of officials ushered them to the door, where Fricke turned to face the press and TV cameras, waved and gleefully stuck out his tongue.
5. Now, over 30 years later, Aaron’s book about the experience has been adapted for the stage.
6. The play, like his groundbreaking court case, immediately received national attention:
Aaron (left) said, “This show has brought the message not only to gay kids but to straight kids too. And to gay adults and straight adults.”