When Nashville Christian School senior B Hayes showed up to their prom, held at the Loveless Barn, they were turned away. That's because they were wearing a suit, rather than a dress as the school dictated. Hayes, who uses he/they pronouns, posted about it on social media.
And then, social media did what it sometimes does — amplified the story for the greater good. Soon, a number of Nashvillians started thinking about how they could give Hayes the quintessential teen experience, including Marcie Allen Van Mol and her husband Derek Van Mol; Allison Holley, owner of Apple & Oak; popular social media figure agirlhasnopresident; and others.
AB Hillsboro Village, in the former home of Anzie Blue, recently opened after pivoting from a restaurant to an event space. The new AB is a 150-seat (250-capacity when standing) venue, already booked with film festivals, public concerts, comedy shows and record label events — and now, a prom.
While Hayes didn’t make their post intending to find an alternative prom, after speaking with Marcie, they accepted the offer for an inclusive prom for 25 of their friends.
“It’s been amazing to see so many people share, like and comment on my post,” says Hayes, who was allowed to wear a suit to prom in the past, but not this year. "I never imagined it would get this amount of attention." (Nashville Christian School did not return calls for comment about its dress code requirements.)
“Knowing that, not only the Nashville community is behind me, but people all over the country are supporting the issue, is incredible to see,” Hayes adds. "I hope the awareness can bring about positive change and that more students in the future feel strong enough to stand up for freedom of expression.”
The Van Mols are Nashville natives who reimagined AB Hillsboro Village as a place for locals. “AB is more than just a music venue," Marcie says. "It's a community space that welcomes everyone. We wanted to create a place where artists can host underplay shows, album release events and livestreams. It’s important that AB is inclusive and open to all, and we’re excited to see the space come to life with a variety of programming, both in-house and through private events.”
The plan is to offer events five nights a week, and venue’s location on Belcourt Avenue is close to both public transportation and ample parking.
AB Hillsboro Village already had two nights on the books for ticketed shows featuring R&B artist Tone Stith. Stith agreed to turn one of those nights into a prom gig instead. Holley created a GoFundMe campaign to help fund the efforts to pull together an “over the top” (in Marcie’s words) prom in a matter of days. Funds will cover the contributions of small-business owners coming through with decor, food, mocktails, a photo booth and more. Any additional funds will be split equally and donated to Hayes' charities of choice, Inclusion Tennessee and Oasis Center.
“You know, I am an event planner,” Marcie says. “I am ‘go big or go home.'" She is currently waiting for Hayes to sign off on the evening’s theme.
The way in which Hayes’ story went viral and the way in which people have reached out to help buoyed Derek’s spirits after several difficult weeks in Nashville. “It showed me that there are still good people in the world.”