Things didn’t go as planned when B Hayes, a senior at a Nashville, Tenn. private Christian school, showed up at their senior prom, ready to celebrate. Instead, the teen was denied entry for wearing a suit instead of a dress — something the school insists goes against “established dress requirements” laid out in a handbook that all students must sign at the start of each year.
On April 23, Hayes, who identifies as nonbinary, took to Instagram to share a photo of themselves standing outside of the prom venue, holding a sign that read: “They wouldn’t let me in because I’m in a suit.”
“My name is B Hayes,” reads the caption, which shows the teen wearing the fitted black suit at the center of the issue. “I’m 18 years old and I’ve been attending Nashville Christian School for 13 years. My senior prom was today and I wasn’t allowed in the doors because I was wearing a suit.”
They continued: “I should not have to conform to femininity to attend my senior prom. I will not compromise who I am to fit in a box. Who are you to tell us what it means to be a woman?”
Within a matter of days, the post garnered more than 24,000 likes and upwards of 2,000 comments from supporters around the country, many of whom offered words of encouragement to the student, plus advice on how to handle similar challenges in life.
For Hayes, the response has been humbling.
"It’s been amazing to see so many people share, like and comment on my post," they tell Yahoo Life in an email statement offered through a public relations representative. "I never imagined it would get this amount of attention."
As the post gained steam, it eventually got the attention of Nashville business owner Marcie Allen Van Mol, who, alongside her husband Derek, owns AB Hillsboro Village, a live music and event space in town. When Van Mol learned about what happened to Hayes, she says she "was immediately sick to my stomach."
"I am a stepmother to two teen girls, and the thought that they wouldn't be able to attend their senior prom because they are more comfortable in pants seemed absolutely ludicrous," she tells Yahoo Life.
That's when Marcie Allen and her husband Derek decided to help. Alongside Allison Halley, who owns a local home goods store called Apple & Oak, they started making plans to throw Hayes and their friends an "all-inclusive" prom where they can "feel safe to express themselves."
To fund those efforts, the trio launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for the event. Within 48 hours, Marcie Allen says they were overwhelmed with an "outpouring of love and support" from other business owners, families and good Samaritans who wanted to donate to the cause. To date, they've raised nearly $32,000 of their $40,000 goal.
"No one should miss prom," says Marcie Allen. "These children have enough to worry about — their clothes and self-expression should not be one of them. Support them, and love them as you would anyone else. They are deserving, wonderful people."
The special night will be held at Marcie Allen and Derek's event space on May 6th, with a performance by local R&B artist Tone Stith. Any leftover funds raised will be split equally for donation to Hayes's charities of choice: queer youth organizations Inclusion Tennessee and Oasis Center.
"Knowing that not only the Nashville community is behind me but people all over the country are supporting the issue is incredible to see," Hayes says in their statement. "I hope the awareness can bring about positive change and that more students in the future feel strong enough to stand up for freedom of expression.”
The experience has been an emotional one for Marcie Allen. "B was a complete stranger three days ago," she explains. "Getting to them through this process and seeing what a difference we can help make in this 18-year-old's life has been life-changing. We have received thousands of messages and emails from across the globe from other parents and students who have been in similar situations."
Regarding Hayes's post, the Nashville Christian School stresses to Yahoo Life through a statement that all students and their families are expected to follow specific guidelines when it comes to the dress code for "daily school attendance" and "special events."
The Nashville Christian School's handbook, when explaining rules around "ladies" and "gentlemen" dress codes, has no mention of pantsuits at special events (though it does say "khaki twill pants" are appropriate for "ladies" to wear during the day).
"The intent of the uniform/dress code is to train our children to realize that although many types of clothing are acceptable for us to wear, some are more appropriate for specific activities than others," the handbook reads. "Students are expected to yield to the given authority of any faculty member or administrator on any dress code related issue."
The school statement shared with Yahoo Life echoes those sentiments, stressing that "all students and families are aware of and sign an agreement to these guidelines when they enroll."
It continues: "The school's expectations regarding appropriate prom attire were communicated to this student and the student's family in advance of the prom. While we certainly respect a student's right to disagree, all of our students know from our school handbook that when they do not follow such expectations at school-sponsored events, they may be asked to leave."
As for Marcie Allen, providing an opportunity to allow kids to "feel safe" and "feel seen" is something she hopes other adults can strive for — not just in Nashville, but everywhere.
"We all need to do our part to help where we can," she says.
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