SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A man who was one half of the first gay couple to attend a high school prom says he didn’t expect to become entrenched in LGBTQ rights history and that he looks back on the event in South Dakota 40 years later as “just a moment.”
Grady Quinn was 20 when he attended the Lincoln High School prom in Sioux Falls with 17-year-old Randy Rohl.
The May 23, 1979, event drew news media from across the country, and it’s still commemorated in Sioux Falls today. But Rohl told the Associated Press at the time that he didn’t think they were “more worthy of special attention” than any other couple.
Quinn echoes the same sentiment now, the Argus Leader reported.
He said he’s glad the prom happened, but he didn’t think at the time that they might be making a historical stand for LGBTQ rights. Quinn said “it was just us being real and being who we are.”
The Sioux Falls newspaper first wrote about the story on May 11, 1979, saying that Lincoln High School had approved a request from an unidentified high school senior to take his boyfriend to the prom. Later stories clarified that the two weren’t romantically involved.
Apart from the attention and news coverage, the night ended up being an average high school prom.
The Washington Post wrote several days later that the only special treatment that Rohl and Quinn received “was a lot of room on the dance floor.”
Rebuffing suggestions from acquaintances in the years that followed that he could somehow capitalize on the event, Quinn told them: “What? No. It’s part of my life. It was just a moment.”
The two drifted from the public eye after the prom, eventually losing touch after they both moved away from Sioux Falls.
Quinn said he later learned that Rohl had died of AIDS in 1993.
“It hit kind of hard,” Quinn said. “I lost a lot of good friends in that era. It was sad to learn that was what got him.”
Sioux Falls Pride hosts an annual event named after Rohl. The Randy Rohl Youth Prom is held for LGBTQ and allied youth who aren’t permitted to bring their partner to prom, or who would feel unsafe doing so.
Quinn Kathner, president of Sioux Falls Pride, said she doesn’t think many Sioux Falls residents know about this part of the city’s history.
“It transcends,” Kathner said. “The message transcends whether it was 40 years ago or today.”