Suburban school district allows Hampshire students to perform musical featuring gay teens: ‘A lot of excitement and relief’

H. Rick Bamman/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Theater students at Hampshire High School will take the stage in the spring to perform “The Prom,” a musical featuring gay teens, after district administrators in the northwest Chicago suburb reversed their earlier decision to postpone the performance due to “safety concerns.”

“It’s a lot of excitement and relief right now,” said senior student Henry Hanson. “There were a lot of people on the verge of tears.”

Susan Harkin, the superintendent of District 300, said in a statement Thursday that the district developed a “comprehensive safety plan” alongside law enforcement and the village of Hampshire that “provides the necessary protections for ‘The Prom’ to be performed within a safe and supportive environment.”

The district had originally postponed the musical to an unspecified time and told students it wouldn’t take place this year. This week, Harkin announced the district was “reconsidering” the decision after student and parent outcry. More than 5,000 people signed an online petition and dozens spoke at a board meeting on Tuesday.

“This plan extends beyond the scheduled performance dates. It spans from today, the date of the announcement, and continues after the final show to effectively address any post-performance issues,” Harkin said. “The plan offers safeguards addressing a wide range of potential issues, including, but not limited to, potential harassment, bullying, and violence targeting LGBTQ+ students, performers, staff and community members.”

In her statement, Harkin asked community members to report any information they become aware of that might endanger a student or staff member to the “Safe School Tip Line” available on the District 300 website at

She previously said she was worried about potential harassment of LGBTQ+ students and faculty members, after she’s seen past attempts to out students involved in the Gay Straight Alliance as well as “threats and inappropriate comments” related to a community meeting held last month for an LGBTQ+ learning space.

Chris Cherry, the musical director at Hampshire High School, said he and his staff chose “The Prom” because it’s about “accepting everybody and that’s what we do here.”

Students shared this week that the production was meaningful to them because it was a chance for the theater kids, some of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community, to feel represented in their craft, and that they didn’t think there would be significant backlash from the community.

“The Prom” follows four struggling, narcissistic Broadway stars who decide to help a lesbian teen want to improve their image through positive media coverage. After reading that parents in a small town in Indiana canceled the school’s prom to prevent a lesbian teen from bringing her girlfriend to the dance, the stars decide to help.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2018 and was adapted into a Netflix film, is loosely based on a 2010 incident where a high school in Mississippi refused to let two girls attend the prom as a couple. When one of the students fought back, involving the American Civil Liberties Union, the school board canceled the dance.