Two years after her high school formal, Victoria Hunter finally got the graduation party she always hoped for.
“I didn’t go with anyone at my original formal; I was a very lonely kid,” she said.
“With the school formals … you have usually got enemies amongst the group and bullies.”
“Here everyone is the same, part of the same community, and we are all going through sort of the same thing — we are all having the same feelings, so this is almost perfect.”
Ms Hunter was one of more than 30 young people who attended Townsville’s first Rainbow Formal.
Aimed at LGBT-Plus people aged 16 to 25, the event was organised by headspace Townsville — a community group with a focus on youth mental health.
Inspired by events such as Byron Bay’s Fancy Formal and Cairns’ Masqueerade, organiser Carolyn Lucas said they wanted to offer an inclusive graduation alternative in northern Queensland.
“We opened it up to (age) 25 as they may not have had that experience of being able to go as their preferred gender or take their preferred partner to their previous school formals,” Ms Lucas said.
“It is something that they do come across, being able to feel comfortable in the way they want to express themselves, whether it is around gender, whether it is around sexuality.
“So this provides a really safe space for them to be able to do that without fear of discrimination and without fear of exclusion.”
Organiser Carolyn Lucas says many LGBT-Plus people find it hard to express themselves fully at their high school formal. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)
The cost of the teenage pack mentality
Jacqui Thornton had her school formal three years ago and said while the event did permit same-sex couples she said no-one ever dared to do it.
“I did want to go with a girl last time,” Ms Thornton said.
“The teenage pack mentality is … against a lot of things, when it is not that much of a big deal if someone is gay.”
Ms Thornton said many LGBT-Plus people did not come out until after graduating from high school due to fear of other students’ attitudes.
“If one of your classmates is gay they will get proper bullied and what not,” she said.
“That’s what leads to a lot of teenage suicides and what you have seen on the news of trans young people ending their lives.”
Jacqui Thornton (seated) says she wanted to bring a same-sex partner to her original school formal but didn’t feel comfortable doing that. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)
Culture of the high school formal changing
A Queensland Anglican school sparked debate in 2008 when it tried to ban a student from bringing a same-sex partner to the school formal.
Ms Lucas said she had noticed slow change in the culture of the school formal and said local schools offered support and promotion of the Rainbow Formal.
“The more supportive schools are of students who identify as of diverse gender and sexuality the more open and safe the students will feel,” Ms Lucas said.
“And we are seeing that some schools are having their formals where students are able to choose what partners they can take, it is a process but change is happening.”
Headspace Townsville Youth Engagement Clinician Hollie Jackson said there was an increasing number of LGBT-Plus formals being held in regional Australia.
“I think there is a large need and a want and a gap for these kinds of events,” Ms Jackson said.
“Being at school and feeling excluded from their own formals it is not necessarily a nice feeling “
“So to have something like this and actually celebrate these individuals for who they are and who they want to be, I definitely think it is really important.”
Headspace Townsville’s Hollie Jackson says the demand for inclusive school formal alternatives is growing. (ABC North Queensland: Nathalie Fernbach)