Readers will no doubt be familiar with the Constance McMillen story. Itawamba County High School canceled its prom event rather than allow McMillen, 18, to bring her female date and wear a tuxedo. McMillen, with the help of the ACLU, sued.
The latest twist in the tale occurred earlier this month when news emerged that appeared to show that parents and students had organized a “fake” and sparsely attended prom event to ostracize McMillen and her girlfriend further while the “real” prom was being held some 30 miles away.
At the time, the ACLU said that they were greatly concerned by this turn of events and would be investigating if school officials were involved in any way. They also indicated that because they believed that these actions were a direct consequence of the school having canceled the original prom, details of what transpired would also feature as part of the pending court case.
Today, the ACLU filed its amended complaint, which includes information on the “malicious” treatment Constance has faced since the original preliminary court decision and the harassment she has been subjected to by her classmates who, among other things, have allegedly taken to social networking sites to bully her.
April 21, 2010
New Information Revealed In Constance McMillen Case
ABERDEEN, MS – The American Civil Liberties Union filed legal papers today in federal court on behalf of lesbian high school student Constance McMillen regarding a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away. The amended complaint alleges that the district’s violation of the free speech rights of McMillen, an 18-year-old high school senior who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend, have repeatedly caused McMillen to be humiliated and harassed.
“I really hoped that prom night would make all that I’ve been through worth it, then April 2 came and those hopes went out the window,” said McMillen. “All I ever wanted was to go to my school prom with my classmates and my date, like anyone else, and instead I was the target of a mean, nasty joke.”
On March 23, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a preliminary ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. The court stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School (IAHS) to put the school prom back on the calendar relying on assurances that an alternative “private” prom being planned by parents would be open to all students, including McMillen.
However, according to legal papers, at a meeting with school officials, parents then decided to cancel that private prom without notifying McMillen because they did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a “decoy” prom for McMillen and her date and still another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was “the prom for juniors and seniors” on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen’s classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.
“Constance is a very brave young woman, and she has suffered tremendously because of the animosity and hate she’s felt coming from her classmates and her community which the school’s actions have encouraged,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Even after a federal court found that the school violated her constitutional rights, an 18-year-old girl has been made the scapegoat and an outsider in the town where she’s lived all her life. For the school to subject Constance to this type of hostility is simply inexcusable.”
Today’s amended complaint contains new details about events that have taken place since the ACLU first filed McMillen’s case on March 11, including about the way her classmates have treated her. Most of McMillen’s classmates no longer speak to her, and some have posted Facebook messages saying they wish she were dead and sent her such text messages as, “I don’t know why you come to this school because no one likes your gay ass anyways.” In response to the court’s March 23 order, the complaint also adds a request for compensatory damages for an amount to be determined later at trial.
“After the court ruled that IAHS acted illegally when it canceled the prom, we hoped that Constance would be able to attend the private prom without further incident,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi. “But instead there was a malicious plan to further ostracize and humiliate her. It is hard to conceive of adults behaving in such a cruel way.”
McMillen is represented by Bennett and Sun, as well as by Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick, and Jason Moff of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.
The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District , et al. Additional information is available at www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Bring Her Girlfriend to the Prom,” at www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.
Since Constance’s battle first became public, she has been courted by various high profiled causes and organizations. She recently spoke to LGBT teens at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian center while on a visit with the ACLU. In March she was also presented with a $30,000 college scholarship on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” on behalf of the website Tonic.com, and was invited to the GLAAD media awards in Los Angeles last Saturday night to present a special award to stand-up comedian and actress Wanda Sykes, where she also received a standing ovation. You can watch Constance give her speech and present the award in the video below:
It has also been confirmed that members of the band Green Day, along with former boy band member Lance Bass and “Iron Chef” star Cat Cora, have agreed to sponsor a “second chance” prom for McMillen on May 8 in Tupelo, Mississippi. The event is open to all, but is especially concerned with providing a safe and enjoyable night for LGBT teens. The American Humanist Association is also sponsoring the event and is reportedly contributing $20,000.
Finally, it has been announced that McMillen will lead the New York City gay pride parade on June 27.
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