When I was a senior in high school, my class took a week-long field trip to Washington, DC. In the weeks leading up to the trip, members of the deeply religious school community attempted to ban me from participating in this field trip because I was gay.
The parents worried that I would practice inappropriate sexual behavior and be a negative influence on their children if I shared a hotel room with other students. Their ignorance and fear led them to treat me unfairly and, along with the countless microaggressions I experienced in my youth, caused deep pain.
I did not take time to process what had happened, instead focusing intently on my future. I was only months away from graduating and moving to New York City for acting school. It wasn’t until months later that I realized just how much pain this event had caused. Creating theatre and working with a life coach helped me process it.
That said, the intolerance I faced during my teenage years has had a lasting effect on me. Although it’s gotten easier over time, anxiety is still the first sensation I experience when I visit Virginia. I cannot set foot in a church without feeling agonizing emotional pain. I’m often hesitant to voice my opinions to people I don’t know well.
As you might have noticed, teenage Jackson, although much more eager to show off his zazz, was quite similar to Emma, the lead character in The Prom. In this new Broadway musical, Emma, a lesbian teenager in Indiana, is banned from attending her high school prom with her girlfriend, and a group of Broadway actors visit her town to teach the community a lesson about acceptance. I’ve found The Prom to be one of the most relatable, moving, and entertaining shows in recent years.
(No, Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas did not come rescue me from Virginia, but listening to them on cast recordings was a common activity provided a wonderful escape for young Jackson.)
By intermission of an early October run-through of The Prom at New 42nd Street Studios, I knew that this show was special. More significantly, I knew it had the power to change lives. If The Prom had been around when I was in high school, I would’ve felt more empowered and less alone. Even seeing it years after my own time in high school, it was highly therapeutic. If I could, I would buy tickets for every LGBT teenager in the world. This show has the power to open the minds and hearts of those who treat any minority group with intolerance.
While I’ve been a proud member of the LGBT community for a while, The Prom has reminded me that my voice and actions can make a difference. Yes, we’ve come a long way when it comes to rights and acceptance, but there is still work to be done. Hate crimes are still happening. Just last week, an attack outside of a gay bar in Philadelphia made headlines. We must speak up. We must take action. Even the smallest positive action is a step toward building a world for everyone.
See The Prom. I think you’ll be moved. And if you are, share it with others. Then, go out and “make people see how the world could one day be.”