A Tale of Two Proms: Court Rules in Favor of McMillen, Georgia Teen Kicked Out of Home Over Gay Prom Date
Two separate incidents, one common theme. First, to news on Constance McMillen.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled that Constance McMillen’s rights were indeed violated by the Itawamba County School District when they chose to deny her permission to wear a tuxedo to the school prom, and to attend the event with her girlfriend. The court also found that the board was wrong to cancel the prom when the ACLU, who represented McMillen in the case, got involved.
However, the court decided that it would not force the school to reinstate the original prom as the injunction filed by the ACLU requested, given that a private prom was now being held instead, but there was one clear caveat to this.
The court did not press the school to put the prom back on, in part, because the court received assurances that Constance will be allowed to attend the private prom. As you may remember from our previous coverage, Constance had previously been excluded from the event, but this appears to no longer be so. Judge Davidson emphasized that this was a strong factor in his decision, commenting that “defendants have made representations, upon which this court relies, that all IAHS students including the plaintiff are welcome [at the event].”
Judge Davidson also gave McMillen’s representation permission to amend their lawsuit so as to seek monetary damages in the light of the school’s actions, saying that he felt “a substantial threat that irreparable harm” could have occurred due to the board’s canceling of the prom.
From the ACLU press release (emphasis mine):
ABERDEEN, MS – A Mississippi federal court today ruled that school officials violated a lesbian student’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let the student attend with her girlfriend. The U.S. Court for the Northern District of Mississippi stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School to put the school prom back on the calendar because of assurances that an alternative “private” prom being planned by parents would be open to all students. The American Civil Liberties Union had requested a preliminary injunction stopping the Itawamba County School District from canceling the prom and from prohibiting Constance McMillen from bringing her girlfriend as a date and wearing a tuxedo to the event.
“It feels really good that the court realized that the school was violating my rights and discriminating against me by canceling the prom. All I ever wanted was for my school to treat me and my girlfriend like any other couple that wants to go to prom,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. “Now we can all get back to things like picking out our prom night outfits and thinking about corsages.”
In the 12-page ruling, the court wrote, “The record shows Constance has been openly gay since eighth grade and she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date. The Court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment. The Court is also of the opinion that the motive behind the School Board’s cancellation of the prom, or withdrawal of their sponsorship, was Constance’s requests and the ACLU’s demand letter sent on her behalf.” Further, the court says that since the school represented the private prom being organized by parents at a furniture store as open to all students, then the court expects that event will indeed invite McMillen and her girlfriend.
McMillen said that she plans to attend the “private” prom, but has also long planned to attend the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition’s Second Chance Prom, to be held Saturday, May 8 in Tupelo. That event, sponsored by Green Day, Tonic.com, Iron Chef Cat Cora, and Lance Bass, among others, will be open to all LGBT students in the state, as well as straight students who are LGBT-supportive. The MSSC and the ACLU deal every year with complaints from LGBT students all over Mississippi who face resistance from their schools about bringing same-sex dates to proms or who don’t feel safe going to their own school proms.
You can read the full court ruling here.
McMillen has said that she is disappointed that the original prom could not be reinstated, but has also commented that she understood because “a lot of people would be inconvenienced.”
A date for McMillen’s court case has yet to be set, but it seems likely that it will be after April 2, when the original prom was meant to take place.
One of the upshots of this entire incident is that it has drawn attention to the prejudice that young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens face in our schools today, and to highlight the stories of other LGBT students throughout America that are put in similar situations.
One such teen, Derrick Martin, 18, of Cochran, Georgia, who was also denied permission to bring his same-sex partner to his senior prom, this time at Bleckley County High, has now been given permission to do so. Originally, Martin’s request was denied by the school, but they then rethought that decision when Martin, inspired by Constance McMillen’s actions, appealed.
From the Telegraph:
I didn’t expect them to say yes,” he said. “It’s who I am. I have the same rights. It’s my senior prom, and I wanted to be able to prove not everyone would cancel prom.”
At his high school, prom dates from outside counties must be approved in advance, so Martin went to his principal and asked.
“At first she said no, Cochran wasn’t ready for it,” he said.
Then last week, school officials said they have no policy in place against it.
“You don’t have the right to say no,” principal Michelle Masters said. “As a principal, I don’t judge him. I’m taught not to judge. I have to push my own beliefs to the background.”
In the wake of his interview with the Telegraph, Martin has been lavished with support, receiving many good wishes over Facebook including people wanting to pay for his prom night, from providing a limo to take Martin and his boyfriend to the prom, to providing new tuxedos for the pair. Unfortunately, the one place that Derrick Martin is lacking in support seems to be at home.
I’m sad to relate the news that, as a result of Derrick Martin’s small triumph, and the fact that his story has appeared in the LGBT media with quite a bit of celebration, Martin’s parents have reportedly “kicked him out” of the family home.
The contrast between McMillen’s ever supportive family and how Martin has reportedly been treated by his parents is marked, and it reminds us that, while McMillen’s story does look set to have a happy ending – and that this is certainly something that should be celebrated and talked of widely as a testament to how things are changing for the better – there is still much work to be done in finding acceptance for our LGBT youth.
*UPDATE (24 March, 2010): More interviews with Derrick Martin have emerged in which he discusses how his parents reacted after he went public with his prom story.
From 13WMAZ.com’s quite seperate interview with Derrick Martin (which also has a video interview with Derrick):
Martin says the publicity he’s gotten, while welcome, has shaken his homelife. He says his parents kicked him out of the house, after the Telegraph ran an article on him.
“It’s their house,” he says. “It’s always been their house–so they can take me or not.”
And that’s his mindset about going vocal, he says people can accept or reject what he’s saying, as long as they’re listening.
More interviews can be found on Derrick’s Facebook support page.
UPDATE (25 March, 2010) - Derrick has also been interviewed by LGBTQ Nation in which he talks about the situation with his parents and how he is now even more determined to go to the prom as a result of all the support he has received from his well wishers. Read that interview here.
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Photos used under fair use, with thanks to the Constance McMillen Facebook Page, and to Woody Marshall of the Telegraph and macon.com.
This post has been updated. Please see the updates section of this post for further information.