School boards stick to decision amid outcry about Prom Queen: The Musical

The decision to pull funding from a musical about a teen who wanted to take his boyfriend to the prom has sparked harsh criticism from Canada's theatre community.

London's English-language public and Catholic boards pulled their funding over issues with the script

Prom Queen: The Musical made its debut in Montreal in 2016. (Kristin Falcao/CBC)

The Thames Valley District school board and the London District school board doubled-down Thursday on their decision to not fund this year's High School Project at the Grand Theatre. 

They did so amid swift condemnation from Londoners and Canadians and an online fundraising campaign that raised more than $45,000 in less than 24 hours. 

This year's chosen play is Prom Queen: The Musical, based on the 2002 story of Oshawa teen Marc Hall, who successfully fought the Durham Region Catholic School Board for the right to bring his boyfriend to prom. 

Some Thames Valley District school board trustees spoke out against the school boards' decision, saying they weren't consulted about the administration's move. 

"I heard about it from social media," said trustee Jake Skinner. "That's not how I like to learn about things as an elected official of the school board." 

The trustee started a petition on Thursday that demanded the school board restore funding toward the project.

He said he will present the petition at a board meeting next week asking board officials to pay $15,000 to fund the production.

But the Catholic and Thames Valley trustee chairs were sticking by the decision, saying the play has strong language, promotes stereotypes and portrays adults in a negative light. 

"The decision not to provide our financial support has been inaccurately portrayed, especially in social media, as a decision resulting from an unwillingness to support students because of their sexual orientation," the Catholic board posted on its website

"TVDSB has a long history of supporting the LGBT2Q+ community and LGBT2Q+ inclusive initiatives, such as participating in the London Pride Parade, encouraging gay straight alliances in schools and providing staff with professional development on LGBT2Q+ inclusive classroom strategies," the Thames board wrote in a statement on its website

Fundraising exceeds goal

For the past 20 years, both boards have contributed $15,000 each to the Grand's High School Project, which has put on plays such as Les MiserablesEvita and Grease. 

London business rTraction started the online campaign to make up the $30,000. Other local businesses followed suit and the social media campaign brought in donations from across Canada. The goal was quickly surpassed.

Among the donors was Mayor Matt Brown and other city councillors as well as local business leaders. Irene Sankoff, who wrote smash hit Come From Away with her husband David Hein, donated more than $2,000.

Another donor was Michael Rubinoff, who helped bring Come From Away to Broadway.

The budget for the high school production is $250,000. 

"I'm not going to second-guess the administration. It's not the trustees' role to determine the educational value of something like this," said John Jevnikar, chair of the board of trustees at the London District Catholic School Board.

About the Author

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.