Aaron and his date Paul talk to attorney John Gaffney just before the Prom.
Photo: Daniel G. Dunn/Picture Group.
Throughout most of his high school years in the late 1970s, Aaron Fricke didn’t know anyone who was openly gay. In his hometown of Cumberland, Rhode Island, a predominantly Roman Catholic town twenty miles north of Providence, growing up gay was grounds for fear and suspicion from adults—including teachers and school administrators—and bloody noses from students. Ostracized, harassed and taunted by classmates, Aaron struggled to be accepted—and to accept himself.
Aaron’s early struggle culminated in a landmark act of rebellion—asking a boy to the junior prom. But actually attending the prom would require a federal court order.
"Through all of my high school years I had been left out and I was tired of it," Aaron later wrote in his autobiography, Reflections of a Rock Lobster: A Story About Growing Up Gay. "I wanted to be part of a group like the other students." Also, he wrote, he wanted to make a political statement to his classmates about his dignity and value as a human being—attending the prom on his terms was a declaration of equality.
GLAD's 1980 case, Aaron Fricke v. Richard B. Lynch, is a milestone in protecting the rights of LGBT students. GLAD founder John Ward and co-counsel argued that the school's action violated Aaron's First Amendment rights of association and free speech, and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws. The court issued an injunction just in time for the couple to attend the dance.
Paul and Aaron, respectively outfitted in navy and powder blue tuxedoes, had a fantastic time.
Aaron Fricke (left) in the mid-1990s with friends.
From the Cover of Gay Community News: "The Administration of Cumberland High School Requests the Absence of Aaron Fricke and His Date..." See the full cover image
Aaron Fricke's memoir about growing up gay in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Published by Alyson Publications, Inc.