WHEN Jess Panczel invited her girlfriend to her year 12 formal, she was surprised at the hostile reactions of her fellow students and even some teachers.

“I went in pretty naive, thinking that everything was going to be fine. I didn’t think it was going to be an issue. We held hands at school around our friends, so I just thought it was all going to be the same,” she explained to the Star Observer.

“I thought we were pretty open about it, but a lot of people didn’t seem to know — they were looking and talking and murmuring.”

Now in its fourth year and the only event of its kind in Australia, the Same Sex Formal gives same-sex attracted and gender diverse high school students the chance to be themselves and bring their partners along to a dinner and dance.

Queer youth organisation Minus 18 began the event in 2010 as a response to incidents involving students told not to invite their same-sex partners to school formals, or being made to feel uncomfortable at these events. A student at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar being asked to bring a male partner instead of her girlfriend made national headlines in 2010.

While this will be Panczel’s first Same Sex Formal, Tim Christodoulou told the Star Observer that before he attended last year’s event he probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable taking a same-sex partner along to a school-based formal.

“As a young person being in the room with 400 other queer young people and just being unafraid to hold hands with your partner without fear of judgement or bullying is just a really incredible feeling,” he said.

“I think it can really change people’s view of their sexuality, but also of the queer community as well, just because it’s a really great opportunity for you to meet so many other young people but also realise that you’re not alone.”

As well as creating that safe space for young, same-sex couples, Panczel and Christodoulou hope the Same Sex Formal will get schools talking about what they can do to make their own events more inclusive for LGBTI students.

Minus 18 general manager Micah Scott told the Star Observer the organisation has been working with the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria particularly on guidelines around dress codes for school formals.

“[It is important to be] more inclusive of young people who are gender diverse or transgender—having policies and awareness in place around students who don’t necessarily feel comfortable wearing particular sets of clothing assigned by the school,” he said.

He added that many students felt uncomfortable having to choose between two very prescriptive and gendered clothing options: a suit or a dress.

Scott also encouraged people to support the event via its crowd-sourcing page, at

The Same Sex Formal will take place on Saturday, April 5 at the St Kilda Town Hall. To register for the event visit


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