40 years ago, Sioux Falls men were first gay couple at prom

Forty years ago next month, Randy Rohl and Grady Quinn went to the Lincoln High School prom in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The rules of prom were clear: You could bring anybody you want as long as one of the attendees is a senior.

And that’s how the two became the first gay couple to attend a high school prom, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader says.

“We were just doing it because he didn’t want to go to prom with a girl,” Quinn tells the paper. It was just a moment and he found the attention strange.

“It doesn’t make me any different,” he said. “It happened, I’m glad it happened. I really didn’t expect to be part of any history.”

″If you think about it, the sexual part of everyone’s life is such a small part, it’s unfair to judge anyone by their sex life. It’s such a trivial matter,″ Rohl told reporters in 1979. He and Quinn were not romantically involved.

“It’s pathetic and sad,” school superintendent John Harris told the Associated Press in 1979. “Maybe that isn’t the way some people look at this sort of thing nowadays.”

The Argus Leader reported then that nothing much happened at the prom, but it didn’t use the students’ names.

After graduating, Quinn moved to Omaha, Neb. Rohl moved to Minnesota where he died of AIDS in 1993, the Argus Leader said.

Quinn speaks somewhat dismissively about his role in making history. He notes that he and Rohl’s names still come up, every now and again. A single line in a magazine article, a brief note in a book on gay rights. Quinn said a friend once found their names on a fact-a-day calendar focused on LGBTQ history.

But he doesn’t talk about what his prom date meant for Sioux Falls.

“It transcends,” said Sioux Falls Pride President Quinn Kathner. “The message transcends whether it was 40 years ago or today.”

Sioux Falls Pride hosts the annual Randy Rohl Youth Prom, an event for LGBTQ and allied youth who aren’t allowed to bring their partner to prom, or would feel unsafe doing so.

“It’s very important to have that message continue and carry through,” Kathner said, “until we have more equality and opportunities.”

Kathner said she doesn’t think many in Sioux Falls know about this part of the city’s history. Even she didn’t know it was the site of the first same-sex prom couple until recently.

“I’ve lived an okay life. I feel no compulsion to go ‘Hey, it’s me, I’m the prom queen,'” Quinn says. “It was just us being real and being who we are.”

  • MrE85

    “It’s pathetic and sad,” school superintendent John Harris told the Associated Press in 1979.

    That’s true, but not the way he meant it.

  • Kay

    First gay couple in Sioux Falls. There was a lesbian couple at my high school prom in Illinois in 1977, and I’m sure that there were others around the country.