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Why a Tony for The Prom Would Be the Best Pride Gift

Why a Tony for The Prom Would Be the Best Pride Gift

The Prom

The Broadway musical centers on rural LGBTQ youth, who are nearly invisible in mainstream entertainment.

LGBTQ stories have often been relegated to awards shows sidelines. Two years ago Moonlight became the first film centered on LGBTQ people to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The Emmy Awards have yet to recognize a Drama Series centered on LGBTQ people for its top honor.

The Tony Awards, however, have never shied away from honoring LGBTQ-focused works in the Best Musical category. La Cage Aux Folles,Rent, Kinky Boots, and Fun Home all took home the big award of the night and squarely showcased LGBTQ stories front and center. Broadway has long been home to groundbreaking LGBTQ stories and inclusion on the Great White Way has often come without the advocacy and persistence that it's taken to grow the number of LGBTQ stories and characters on television and in film.

This year The Prom received Outstanding Musical at the Drama Desk Awards and has a solid opportunity to join the LGBTQ Best Musical winners as part of Tony Awards history. With the Tony Awards taking place at the start of LGBTQ Pride month and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots - a win for The Prom would be a well-deserved and fitting honor that could send a message to the entire industry about the types of LGBTQ stories that need to be told today.

At its core, The Prom shines light on a social issue and inspires while it entertains. The previous LGBTQ-focused winners of Best Musical similarly went beyond entertainment and did what a Best Musical should do: transport audiences into the lives and stories of rich and compelling characters. La Cage brought gay visibility to new heights in the 1984, Rent humanized HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ people of color, Kinky Boots played with gender diversity, and Fun Home tackled coming out as a queer woman. Beyond the choreography, lyrics, and acting, these stories took home the Tony because they opened eyes and changed the hearts and minds of audiences all over. Best Musical winners including Cabaret, Spring Awakening and Avenue Q also showcased LGBTQ supporting storylines which played pivotal roles in the shows and moved LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ audience goers.

The Prom joins this LGBTQ theatrical history club with the story of Emma, a queer teenager in Indiana who is barred from bringing her girlfriend to her high school prom. Emma is played with raw heart and talent by Tony nominee Caitlin Kinnunen. Kinnunen made headlines after performing a number from The Prom during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade which ended with a kiss between Kinnunen and her co-star Isabelle McCalla - the first LGBTQ kiss in the parade's history. That kiss alone - airing on NBC on Thanksgiving morning - was award-worthy.

As the character of Emma comes to terms with who she is, she faces bullying from her peers and parents in the town. The show goes beyond the standard coming out narrative to showcase the isolation and discrimination that LGBTQ youth too often experience in rural America today. It culminates in the LGBTQ anthem "Unruly Heart," in which Emma decides she will tell her story and be visible - regardless of what happens.

It's not only the LGBTQ characters who transform during the arc of The Prom, as the students and parents around Emma move towards acceptance. The latest research from GLAAD and The Harris Poll found an erosion in LGBTQ acceptance - non-LGBTQ people report being less comfortable with LGBTQ people. The Prom is one of the few mainstream entertainment projects this year that moves beyond merely including LGBTQ people to reflecting a culture experiencing a downturn in acceptance and presenting the strategies to win it back. In today's divided political and cultural landscape, those are stories that are often absent, but can be absolutely powerful and a Tony Award for The Prom would be a signal to the industry that audiences and critics are hungry for more of them.

The Prom has not taken its LGBTQ message lightly and brings its message of acceptance off-stage. The stars of The Prom are the face of a Kenneth Cole Pride campaign, which benefits the United Nations Free & Equal campaign. The cast regularly participates in post-show talk backs about LGBTQ issues and Kinnunen performed "Unruly Heart" with the Youth Pride Chorus at the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. During the performance, a young professional wrestler who came out and a transgender student who lost his ROTC scholarship because of the ban on transgender service members stood next to Kinnunen and told their own stories. Earlier this year, Ryan Murphy provided tickets for hundreds of LGBTQ youth to see The Prom and be seated alongside their favorite stars including Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker and the cast of FX's Pose. Murphy will now bring the story of The Prom to Netflix in a film adaptation that will reach youth everywhere.

Out of this year's nominees for Best Musical, The Prom is the only one to inspire change as it simultaneously entertains audience members and - as its LGBTQ-focused predecessors - it will for generations to come.

Rich Ferraro is the Chief Communications Officer for GLAAD.

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