WEST ORANGE, NJ — Weeks after West Orange middle school student Justice Cillo-Smith was reprimanded for dress code violations in relation to a shirt reading “We’re all lesbians”—modeled after a shirt worn in a Broadway musical about a lesbian student who is banned from bringing her girlfriend to the high school prom—cast members of Broadway’s “The Prom” sent a video to Cillo-Smith stating that they were “deeply saddened that [she] experienced anything other than support and positivity” while wearing the shirt and took turns sharing “words of encouragement.”
The video was made in response to hearing that Cillo-Smith and her mother, Gwen Wu, addressed the West Orange Board of Education about the issue because Cillo-Smith, who identifies as a lesbian, felt “discriminated against” while wearing the shirt at Liberty Middle School.
The consensus among cast and crew members was that Cillo-Smith is a “strong, courageous, amazing young woman” for sticking up for herself and that she should “keep being amazing and awesome and standing up for what [she] believes in because that’s what important.”
The cast members also said that they were inspired by Cillo-Smith’s story. One of them said that the entire cast was “really blown away” by Cillo-Smith’s courage, saying, “We love you, we support you and we have your back. We are all lesbians forever.”
Show creators Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin both showed their support during the video montage.
“I just want to apologize that you have to deal with such a ridiculous world at such a young age,” said Martin. “There’s nothing inappropriate or offensive about the words on your T-shirt, and I’m proud of you for doing what you’re doing. The entire ‘Prom’ family is behind you.”
Beguelin, who wrote the lyrics for the musical production, said, “Even though I don’t know you, Justice, I’m so proud of you for standing up for yourself and for helping other people find their true selves.”
Isabelle “Izzy” McCalla, who made her Broadway debut as Jasmine in “Disney’s Aladdin” and now plays Alyssa Greene in “The Prom,” wore an identical shirt in the video to share her love with Cillo-Smith and to “show solidarity.”
“This T-shirt is amazing,” she said. “It is not disruptive in any way; if anything, it is a celebration of humanity. I applaud your courage, and your audacity to be who you are. Thank you for supporting all of those who may feel ‘othered’ and for standing up for that. That is really an amazing thing, and we all, at ‘The Prom Musical,’ stand with you and support you and love you.”
Cillo-Smith and her mother came before the board in early October because they did not agree that the “We’re all lesbians” shirt was worn in violation of the district’s dress code. In fact, they mentioned that another student in Cillo-Smith's grade had worn the same shirt a week prior while attending Roosevelt Middle School in West Orange and did not experience any issues.
According to Cillo-Smith’s mother, Liberty Principal Robert Klemt and Student Assistance Counselor Heidi Brotzman agreed at the time that Cillo-Smith was in violation of the “sixth and seventh dress code bullet points” as follows:
- Articles of clothing that contain references to illegal substances, sexual innuendos, inappropriate language and pictures, sayings or symbols that show affiliation to hate groups, gangs or demeaning messages directed towards any individual group or association.
- Any accessory that can be dangerous and/or disruptive to the learning environment.
Following the incident, West Orange Superintendent of Schools Dr. J. Scott Cascone provided a statement regarding how the district intends to handle this particular case and others like it in the future. The details of his statement, which concludes that the district “needs to put some additional trainings in place,” can be found HERE.
“I feel very comfortable and confident with the heart of our staff, but it’s more of a case of combining that genuine concern for kids with the training and understanding that enables them to navigate these situations a little bit more adeptly,” Cascone said at the time.
A training/staff development at Liberty Middle School has since been scheduled for Monday, Nov. 11 and will be conducted by Garden State Equity, an LGBTQ advocacy and education organization.
See below to view the video in its entirety: