By now, many of you will know the story of Constance McMillen, the 18-year-old student of Fulton, Mississippi, who was told by the school board of Itawamba County School District that she could not bring her girlfriend to the prom as same-sex couples were not allowed. When she appealed the decision the school board decided to cancel the entire event. As a result, Constance has faced verbal harassment from her peers.
With the help of the ACLU, Constance McMillen is now suing the school for what she feels is a clear infringement of her rights and an act of blatant discrimination. Her appeal to have the prom reinstated is likely to be heard on Monday.
Now, the school board’s lawyers have filed a brief that defends the board’s actions, and contains the news that a group of parents have organized a private prom for kids at McMillen’s school. The caveat to this is that McMillen is not invited.
From the Clarion Ledger:
An attorney for the Itawamba County School District said the school board called off a high school prom to settle the “very explosive and disruptive issue” of the district’s ban on same-sex dating, according to a filing in U.S. District Court on Friday.
The filing by school board attorney Benjamin Griffith states that Itawamba Agricultural High School senior Constance McMillen “wishes to make the defendant district the site for a national constitutional argument over gay and lesbian rights.”
I’d interject that the school board made this a “constitutional argument over gay and lesbian rights” when it decided to firstly deny McMillen the right to bring her girlfriend to the school prom (and to wear a tux), and then to secondly cancel the prom, an act that has led to Constance McMillen being maligned by some of her schoolmates. The school board’s attorneys disagree however, and think that it is the school board that is being victimized:
Griffith said the student’s rights were not violated.
“This is not an issue where anyone has been denied an education or suffered a constitutional deprivation,” he wrote in the filing. “Rather, this is a social event that, in light of rapidly escalating circumstances, was disruptive to the school environment because people are on all sides of the issue.”
An affidavit filed Friday by attorney James Keith says school board members have been been under “tremendous pressure” as a result of the controversy.
“The school board was caught in a no-win situation as this matter developed,” Keith wrote. “One board member received threats at his place of employment because of the stance he had taken on the matter. Board members have received e-mails, telephone calls and Facebook messages regarding this matter.”
ACLU attorney Christine Sun called the argument “preposterous.”
“Long before this became an issue in the media, they had told Constance that she could not bring her girlfriend to the prom,” she said. “Really it was the school board’s decision to cancel the prom that became the big news story.”
Then, the news of a new, private prom event that will exclude McMillen:
The school board’s response states parents have organized a private prom at a furniture mart in nearby Tupleo. Now that the school district has withdrawn from the event, any constitutional claims are irrelevant, Griffith wrote.
Sun said she had only heard rumors of the private dance until she read it in the brief.
“Constance has not been invited, so it is clear to me that what is happening is that the school has encouraged a private prom that is not open to all the students,” she said. “That’s what Constance is fighting for — a prom where everyone can go.”
This, of course, tries to sidestep the original act of discrimination, and also adds what I think is a new dimension of disregard for McMillen’s rights. By saying that, because the prom is now being held privately, the constitutional issue over Constance McMillen’s case and the discrimination that she faced becomes an irrelevancy is misleading. It doesn’t. It’s still discrimination. Even if the latter example is legal, it doesn’t make it right, and it certainly does nothing to delete what went before it.
It is important to emphasize that the actions of a few do not speak for the actions of all Mississippi residents, many of whom have come out in support of McMillen. It is a shame, however, that certain parents in the Itawamba School District have decided to organize what is essentially a segregated prom, and in so doing have reinforced that this kind of discrimination is acceptable.
In other news, it’s been a busy old week for Constance. From being asked to present the Stephen F. Kolzak award to Wanda Sykes on behalf of GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, to being sent a special invitation from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.
From Hilton’s blog:
We invited Constance and guests of her choosing to come out to Los Angeles for our big birthday party next weekend, where she’ll get to see some amazing divalicious performances and get to mingle with some very cool celebs.
That is WAY cooler than prom!
Constance has taken us up on our offer to bring her out, put her up and treat her like Homecoming Queen and we can’t wait to give her a big hug and thank her for being so bold, brave, courageous and all-round amazing.
And the good tidings for Constance keep rolling in. On Friday, Constance appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show where she told Ellen her story, and received a very special gift courtesy of Tonic.com. The video below also contains a brief chat with Constance’s ever-supportive father:
Constance’s legal fight goes on, but her singular battle has now become so much more. By standing up to the inequality that she has faced, and by doing so with grace, humility and a grounded mentality, Constance McMillen has been able to give a voice to other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens who have suffered, and continue to suffer, discrimination, prejudice and alienation in our schools.
As such, this remarkable young woman has shone a spotlight on this kind of inequality, and for that reason she is, in my opinion, certainly worthy of all the good things that are now coming her way.
UPDATE (22 March, 2010): While no decision has been made yet on the school’s conduct or whether the prom should be reinstated, Monday saw a day of testimony from both sides of the legal case with U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson saying that a ruling will be made quickly, given that “time is of the essence.” Click here to read more.
UPDATE (23 March, 2010): U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson has denied an injunction forcing the school to reinstate the prom, citing that he wished to avoid any more confusion surrounding this issue. He did however rule that the school did violate Ms. McMillen’s rights when they denied her permission to bring her girlfriend to the prom. From Yahoo news:
Davidson did say he will hold a trial on the issue later, but he did not set a date and any ruling would likely come too late to force the district to hold the prom when it was originally scheduled.
Davidson’s order says the district violated McMillen’s constitutional rights by denying her request to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, and ACLU Mississippi legal director Kristy Bennett called that a victory.
She said Davidson’s order allows McMillen to amend her petition within 30 days, meaning she could sue for damages because she couldn’t get the prom reinstated.
UPDATE (24 March, 2010): New Blog Post! - A Tale of Two Proms: Court Rules in Favor of McMillen, Georgia Teen Kicked Out of Home Over Gay Prom Date
Related Posts on this Story:
You can also contact the school directly and let them know you support Constance McMillen’s right to bring her date to the prom. Click here for more information. A big thank you to reader Melissa Elaine Gacuzana for pointing to this action.
Thank you to all those who have already taken action.
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Photo taken from the ACLU video campaign, no infringement intended.
This post has been updated. Please see the updates section of this post for further information.