Every student deserves to celebrate finishing school, and every student deserves to be included.

School formal planning started in March.

At the end of every year meeting, the teachers would excuse themselves and the next ten minutes would be the formal committee giving us updates on everything from the destination (ideas included a boat, a club on darling harbour, or that fancy stone building where people get married) to the colour of the font on the invitations (teal on white, or the more traditional black on cream).

At the time, I was more focused on my upcoming maths test and lunch than the specifics for a dance that was 8 months away. I was more than happy for everything to be handled by a group of people who were far more enthusiastic than me.

By August, tickets were on sale and people started using words dreaded by any not-completely-fashion-coordinated person: dresses and dates. I was one of the very few openly gay people in my year. At that point, my gender identity was non-disclosed and I was still conflicted over whether or not I would even wear a dress or have a date.

Despite this, I was excited. Year 12 had been a big year. I’d dealt with assessments and exams and the words ATAR either whispered in fear or screeched loudly by teachers. I’d come out, and built a wonderful group of friends. I’d succeeded and I’d failed and I’d almost finished with school forever. The formal would be the last time I would see my entire year group all together in the one place.

I remember how during the graduation ceremony I’d held my girlfriend’s hand under the chair, doubly covered by her dress. I remembered to contain my grin to an appropriate smile when she cleaned out all the academic awards.

Then, I remember getting on the formal bus and finally being able to tell her how beautiful she looked.

Every part of that night was a moment.
Every photo.
Every song.
Every dance.

It might have rained a little outside, and maybe the food wasn’t the greatest, and the bar tab ran out a little earlier than expected…but the moment I could slow dance with my girlfriend, unashamed, friends surrounding us, stumbling awkwardly like every other couple for our final farewell: There are no words.

Unfortunately, my safe and lovely school formal experience was an exception to the norm for lots of young same sex attracted, intersex and sex or gender diverse young people. Many people are denied the opportunity to celebrate the end of school with their friends and peers.

Formals are more than the dances and the clothes. They’re a celebration, and a rite of passage that everyone should be allowed to take part in and be themselves for. They are essential memories to the lives of all young people, and they shouldn’t be denied to anyone just because they identify as LGBTIQ+.

Safe Schools Coalition Australia’s Guide to hosting inclusive school formals  provides ideas and advice about how to plan and host events that allow everyone to feel included and have a great time.

Because every student deserves to celebrate finishing school, and every student deserves to be included.

For more information, resources and support, visit Safe Schools Coalition Australia