By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about 18-year-old Constance McMillen of Fulton, Mississippi, and her compelling story.
Itawamba County High School officials denied McMillen the right to bring her girlfriend to the school prom and to wear a tuxedo to the event. After the ACLU got involved, the school simply canceled the prom. Constance took legal action against the school to try and have the prom reinstated. As part of a preliminary ruling in the case, the presiding judge found that the school had indeed violated McMillen’s constitutional rights, and had subjected her to emotional harm because of the backlash she faced from her peers, but declined her request to reinstate the prom because a private function had been organized and the court had received assurances that Constance was invited to attend.
Great, right? Everyone gets to go to prom, bring the date of their choice and everyone can have a good time. Wrong.
McMillen was in for a nasty surprise when she attended the prom on Friday night. From The Advocate:
McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn’t much to keep an eye on.
“They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them,” McMillen says. “The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to.”
Last week McMillen asked one of the students organizing the prom for details about the event, and was directed to the country club. “It hurts my feelings,” McMillen says.
Two students with learning difficulties were among the seven people at the country club event, McMillen recalls. “They had the time of their lives,” McMillen says. “That’s the one good thing to come out of this, [these kids] didn’t have to worry about people making fun of them…”
McMillen has said that she was aware of the other event, but when she asked if she was allowed to attend, she was told no.
It’s unclear at this time whether the school administration was in fact aware of the other prom, and the school has not yet commented on Friday night’s events, however pressure grows for them to make a statement.
Constance’s legal team at the ACLU, however, is said to be examining what happened on Friday ahead of the coming court case:
“We are disappointed at the sparse attendance, and we’re looking further into the situation. Whatever we find will be brought to the court’s attention, whether it is in the damages trial, or whatever. There will still be a trial on the merits. The case didn’t end in the preliminary hearing.” –Kristy Bennett, legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi.
In a further statement to MSNBC, the ACLU commented that they are now investigating the impact of this being a “fake” prom, saying:
“It would be deeply troubling if that turns out to be the case since the fact that this prom was occurring was one reason the judge did not force the school district to reinstate its original event,” the ACLU added. “All Constance has ever wanted was to be treated with equality and dignity and to be able to be herself, and this latest event, if it is as it appears to be, is a sad and unfortunate insult added to too many previous injuries.
On a personal level, though, this seems to be about as hurtful and petty as it gets. It is true that no one can force a privately organized prom to be inclusive, as it is entirely up to the organizers who they invite. Similarly, you can’t force the student body at large to attend the same prom as McMillen.
But this “boycott” of the official prom as one school member is reportedly calling it doesn’t stop the act being mean-spirited and aggressively underhanded. To add to that, sending two developmentally handicapped students to the boycotted official event really speaks volumes about these exclusionary tactics.
Many parents in the area cited morality as the reason for their distaste at Constance bringing a same-sex date, and held it up as a reason why they didn’t want her to attend the first private prom. That sentiment falls apart when the two developmentally disabled students are factored in. What was the morality behind those students being directed to the fake event? Were they unintended casualties in this awful affair? Or were the kids at the school simply following the example set by their parents and the school board by excluding anyone that was different from the much lauded norm?
Fundamentally, I believe that this all comes back to the school board’s original actions.
When they chose to cancel the first school sponsored prom rather than let McMillen bring her girlfriend, they effectively turned McMillen’s classmates against her. This is the result.
Moreover, as is so often the case when it comes to this kind of prejudice, an insidious bleed has occurred, intolerance begetting intolerance, and now we find two other students, also different from their peers, have apparently been similarly marginalized.
Meanwhile a date for McMillen’s forthcoming court case, in which she will be seeking damages from the school, has yet be set, but an announcement is expected in the next few weeks.
No doubt we’ll have updates on this story over the next few days as the fallout continues, so please check back.
Update 1 – 06 April, 2010: In the wake of this most recent news, various Facebook groups have been set up against Constance McMillen. One such group, Constance Quit Yer Cryin, was reportedly created by one of her classmates. Many of Constance’s supporters have overwhelmed the board with messages of support for Constance. See the group here. (Link disabled.)
– A note: When the link was added above, the tone of the Facebook page was focused on simply voicing support for Constance. It has been brought to my attention that this is no longer the case. In the interests of not adding to a climate of hostility, the link has been removed. If you still wish to view the board, I’m sure it is reachable through searching on Facebook. Thank you.
Related Care2 Petition:
Support the Student Non-Discrimination Act to ensure that public schools do not discriminate against students on the basis of their LGBT identity.
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