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, in not allowing him to bring a male date to his Prom, Cumberland High School violated Aaron Fricke’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 in Aaron’s favor just in time for him to attend the dance with his date, Paul.

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.