An 18-year-old high school student in Franklin, Tenn., is speaking out about his decision to wear a dress to prom after a man was caught on video harassing the teen over his outfit at a pre-prom event.
The now-viral clip, which was posted to TikTok and Twitter, showed the man — later identified as Sam Johnson, the then-current and now-former CEO of a telemedicine company in Nashville — telling Dalton Stevens that he looked "like an idiot" in his red ballgown. Despite the slander and the national attention paid to the video, however, Stevens remains confident in his decision to wear the garment and maintains that he looked "gorgeous" in it.
"A man on TikTok with a similar build inspired me after posting a video of him wearing a dress," Stevens tells Yahoo Life, referring to TikTok creator Austin Peyton, who posted a viral video in March of himself wearing a red gown.
Stevens quickly went to purchase one himself, explaining that he had lots of support from his mom and friends. "Leading up to the night, I was super excited for it, couldn't wait. I told a lot of my friends about it, they were so excited about it," he explains. But when he, his boyfriend and a group of friends went to the Harpeth Hotel downtown to take some prom pictures before heading to the event, he encountered some unwanted attention.
"We walked inside, took pictures in front of a fireplace, in front of a staircase, just a lot of pretty backdrops, that's why we went there. And inside this hotel there's also a restaurant that has a bar attached, and that's where the gentleman was sitting for most of the night until he decided to approach me," Stevens says of Johnson. "As we were about to leave, me and my group of friends were just circled around each other talking and then he comes up behind me and my boyfriend and startles me, because I didn't know who he is, obviously, so I turned backwards and said, 'Excuse me.' And he goes, 'Do you know what you're wearing?'"
Stevens claims that he started to chuckle, thinking that Johnson was joking since it was evident that the teen was wearing a dress. "He was like, 'Oh, why did you decide to wear that?' And I said, 'I think I look good in it and I don't think that there's anything wrong with it.' And he decided to continue to say things like 'Oh, you look like a dumbass,' that I looked stupid. There were a lot more insults thrown about how a man shouldn't be wearing a dress. Like, 'You have hair on your chest, you shouldn't be wearing a dress.' And that's when the video started."
Steven's boyfriend, Jacob Geittmann, was the one who captured the rest of the incident on his phone and later posted it to social media.
In the video, Stevens and Geittmann are heard yelling at the man before Stevens begins to walk away. "He continued to follow me and harass me and just call names," Stevens says of Johnson, who is heard saying, "You look like an idiot," just before trying to swat Geittmann's phone away. According to the video and additional explanation on Geittmann's TikTok, that's when adults at the venue intervened — including hotel staff, who Geittmann said ultimately kicked Johnson out and called the police.
Justin Foster, the general manager of the Harpeth Hotel, tells Yahoo Life, "Our goal is ensure that all guests and visitors feel welcome and comfortable at the Harpeth. We were disheartened by the events that occurred on property this past weekend and are grateful that our staff quickly responded and diffused the situation. We look forward to continuing creating positive experiences on property."
The interaction between Johnson and Stevens ended that night. And although Stevens tells Yahoo Life that the video was posted to bring awareness to the harassment that LGBTQ people face, he acknowledges that the "overwhelming" response has led to much more — including the loss of Johnson's job at VisuWell.
"We unequivocally condemn the behavior exhibited by Sam Johnson in a recent video widely circulated on social media. After investigating the matter and speaking to individuals involved, the VisuWell Board of Directs has chosen to terminate Mr. Johnson from his position as CEO, effective immediately," a statement from the company reads, adding that "Mr. Johnson's actions contradicted the high standards we set for ourselves in promoting the health of those who use our platform."
The company also stated that it will take "concrete steps" to support the LGBTQ community in the coming weeks.
In a statement to Newsweek, Johnson maintained that the allegations were "entirely false" and claimed that he hadn't confronted the teens about anything personal. "We had just sat down for dinner at this restaurant that we frequent, and I was returning from the restroom when I was presented with their loud cursing," he told the publication. "Making it about the dress was their idea and they edited out most of the exchange."
But after the video made headlines for Johnson's behavior, Stevens is set on bringing the dress back into focus — and reminding people that any comment from a stranger "isn’t gonna make me believe that I’m any less beautiful than I actually am." He's even gained support and love from celebrities including Kathy Griffin, Cyndi Lauper and Billy Porter, who have gone the extra mile to remind Stevens of his beauty.
"Gorgeous," Lauper commented on Stevens' TikTok video where he showed off his prom look. Porter added, "Say yasssss to the dress!!"
Porter also posted Steven's video to his own Instagram feed, alongside a photo of himself wearing a red gown on a red carpet with the hashtags #ManlyMan and #PromQueen.
"[Porter] is such an icon and he is who I look up to a lot just for wearing what he wears," Stevens says of Porter. "So to know that he thought I'm good enough to be a guy in a dress and be a person that people can look up was just amazing."
He continues, "Knowing that I have these celebrities that have such a big voice behind me just makes me feel even better. These people support me."
Still, Stevens says that throughout the night he encountered more support and love than hate, which put his encounter with Johnson into perspective.
"I definitely wasn't looking for any type of praise for wearing that. I just wanted people to be like, 'Oh, that's a man in a dress and he looks good,'" Stevens shares. "A man in a dress should be normalized, just how a woman can wear a button-up shirt. It's a piece of cloth, it has no gender. That's the main thing that I got from it. I'm very glad that my voice can be put out there to show people that I am confident in a dress and that everybody should be confident in a dress."
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