Students protest exclusive dance
controversy over JA rules causes both sides to speak out
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“Junior Assembly does not allow same sex couples to attend their annual cotillion dance,” the petition to Change JA declares.
The traditional cotillion inspired dance has been under attack in recent weeks. This is not the first time students have spoken out against the exclusive event. For years students have criticized the dance for its exclusivity, antiquated traditions, and strict code of conduct.
In the last several years a rumor has circulated that in order to bring a same-sex date, students were required to sign a contract confirming their homosexuality and their commitment to bring a same sex date all subsequent years in attendance.
In light of that rumor, senior Emerson Casey, who is straight, called to ask for a form so that she could take one of her female friends as her date. Her request was denied. No such form or provision exists.
In reaction to the decision, Casey and senior Annika Jensen started a petition called Change JA. The petition has sparked much debate and discussion in the Reno community. Casey and Jensen were interviewed in a segment that aired on local news station KRNV Oct. 27.
The Junior Assembly Executive Board released a statement offering the following explanation:
“Junior Assembly does not discriminate. We do not ask members their race, religion, culture, sexual-orientation, etc. JA displays equality and diversity among our members.”
The comments section of change.org, the host for the Emerson and Jensen’s petition, is riddled with claims that students have been denied the opportunity to bring a same-sex date to the dance. The JA Executive Board counters these claims.
“To our knowledge, we have never been asked by a member to bring a date of the same sex because of their sexual orientation. This has never been addressed because it has never been brought up to our board in our 69 year history.”
The response goes on to point out that Emerson asked to bring a friend that was a girl, not a girl that was her same-sex partner.
“Our rules state that a member must bring someone of the opposite sex. Members of the board asked the senior member to state her concerns in a letter to the board and explain her request for a rule change by the end of they year. She agreed, but the board has not received the letter,” the letter from the JA Executive board stated.
Taking things a step further than the petition to change the rules, Emerson and Jensen planned an alternative dance scheduled to take place at the same time as the Junior Assembly dance. All WCSD student will be allowed to attend, proceeds will go to The Trevor Project, a non-profit suicide prevention organization for the LGBTQ community. The girls hope that by holding this dance it will bring awareness and support to the cause and to the LGBTQ community.
“Administration was extremely helpful,” Jensen said. “They were all extremely supportive of what we are trying to accomplish.”
Reno High School principal Kris Hackbusch clarified that administration at the school is not involved with the petition, but that they called the Washoe County School District legal department to determine what could and could not be posted at the school.
“Concern from administration is that with JA it’s important for people to understand that it’s not a school [or school district] sponsored event. Schools are not involved in selection process or anything like that.” Hackbush said, “But we are happy to support kids who want to speak out regarding things they feel strongly about.”
While the rules will not be changed prior to the event this year, the voices of dissent have been heard and the topic will be on the agenda at a future meeting.
“Junior Assembly Board of Directors will discuss the topic of same-sex dates at a future board meeting in early 2016,” the statement from the JA Executive board said.
The response concluded with well wishes directed towards Casey and Jensen.
“We understand there are plans for another group to host a dance on the same night as the Junior Assembly dance. We wish success to those involved.”