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Banned by town, father-daughter dances may make comeback

Father-daughter dances like this one would be allowed -- once again -- if a proposed state law passes.
Father-daughter dances like this one would be allowed -- once again -- if a proposed state law passes.Lori Stratford /

The age-old tradition of father-daughter dances may get an encore performance on school dance floors in Cranston, R.I.

A lawmaker is sponsoring a bill that she hopes will amend Rhode Island's language on gender discrimination laws just enough to allow gender-specific events, such as father-daughter dances or mother-son baseball games, to make a comeback after they were banned last fall.

“I don’t believe the intent of these events was ever to be overtly discriminatory, but we all have to live with the language of the law. This bill, if approved and enacted, should ensure that these events can continue without weakening our resolve to oppose discriminatory activities,” State Sen. Hanna Gallo, who represents Cranston, said in a statement.

The legislation would amend state law to permit schools "to provide activities for students of one sex provided that reasonably comparable activities are provided for students of the other sex," Gallo said a in a statement.

Cranston banned father-daughter dances last year, saying they were a violation of state gender laws after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a complaint on behalf of a single mom, who said her daughter couldn't attend because she didn't have a dad to accompany her.

“A dance for girls and a baseball game for boys, particularly in light of the stereotypes they embody, are not, we submit, ‘reasonably comparable’ activities. To the contrary; the stereotypes at their core undermine the goal of school anti-discrimination laws,” the ACLU letter read

At least one Cranston elementary school has managed to avoid the controversy altogether: Hold family dances instead.

"The stereotypical family doesn't really exist anymore," Robyn Ladouceur, a parent of a sixth-grader at Garden City School in Cranston. "We know for a fact that we have families from lesbian couples that have children, and adopted children, and all different faiths and religions. Why don't we just have an event for whoever you'd like to bring?"

Ladouceur is the parent facilitator of the Family Engagement Network, a PTO-type organization. She hopes her school will be a role model for others in Cranston, regardless of the outcome of Gallo's legislation.

"I'm trying to grasp what they're losing in calling a father-daughter dance 'a family dance,' what they're losing in calling a mother-son bowling 'family bowling,'" she said. "Anybody who has listened to both sides would say if the kids aren't losing out on anything and all we're doing is making it more acceptable for all people to come, and you just want your husband to take your daughter to the family dance, no one is going to look differently upon you."

The town of Cranston, located a few miles outside of Providence, is no stranger to controversy. In April 2011, a 15-year-old girl teamed up with the ACLU and filed a lawsuit over a prayer banner that hung in her high school's auditorium. Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist, received death threats for insisting that the banner, which had been up for decades, be removed; ultimately, she won the lawsuit.