A Mississippi county school board announced Wednesday it would cancel its upcoming prom after a gay student petitioned to bring a same-sex date to the event. "Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year," school board members said in a statement.
The school told Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old senior, that she couldn't bring a female date, couldn't arrive with another girl, couldn't wear a tuxedo, and warned her that even if she and her girlfriend arrived separately and wore dresses, they would be asked to leave if their presence made other students "uncomfortable." Now McMillen, the 18-year-old senior who wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom, doesn't just have to worry about being the only out lesbian at her small town's high school, she also has to worry about her classmates blaming her for the cancellation of their prom:
"Oh, my God. That's really messed up because the message they are sending is that if they have to let gay people go to prom that they are not going to have one," she said. "A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this."
But, hey, there may still be a prom! The school board has invited "private citizens" to host a prom—because a group of private citizens, unlike a public school, can bar McMillen and her girlfriend from prom without risking a lawsuit.
To recap: McMillen asked to bring her girlfriend to prom and the school said no, which prompted the ACLU to get involved, which prompted the school board to cancel prom and invite private citizens to host a straights-only restricted prom, and now "Bigots Cancel Prom" is a national news story. It seems to me that if anyone is guilty of creating a "distraction" here it's the school and the school board, not Constance McMillen. Allowing McMillen and her date to attend prom would've been the much less distracting option.
Now it's our job to make discriminating against (and retaliating against) vulnerable gay students a much bigger distraction for the Itawamba County School District understand than allowing Constance McMillen to attend prom ever would've been. Let's start here: Teresa McNeece is the superintendent of Itawamba County School District. She needs to hear from you:
Keep it respectful, Sloggers, but let her have it. CC me on any e-mails you send to McNeece. I will compile and post 'em to Slog.
UPDATE: Mmoffatt nails it in comments:
The school district is punishing this girl for being a lesbian. Anyone with half a brain could foresee the fallout this girl will receive from them canceling Prom. She will be tormented from now until graduation because it was "her fault" prom was cancelled. This is an extremely petty act on the the part of the school district and I just hope that nothing truly horrible happens to this girl in the next few months. If it does, the school will be to blame.
UPDATE 3: E-mails are bouncing back from some of the board members listed above. They seem to have been disabled—anyone care to do a little internet sleuthing and see if you can't dig up current or alternate e-mail addresses and phone numbers for these board members? There are only 23K folks in that town, so it shouldn't be hard. I'm going to record a podcast, so offline for an hour or so. Will check back in the comments thread when I'm done. Let's make this sure the board is very, very distracted by the fallout from their bigoted decision to retaliate against a vulnerable student and put her at risk of physical and emotional violence.
UPDATE 4: The principal of the school that Constance McMillen attends also needs to hear from you:
Send e-mails and call. Keep it respectful but very, very distracting.
UPDATE 5: Gee, it looks like canceling prom didn't make this distraction go away—far from it. The ACLU just sent out this press release:
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against a Mississippi High School that has canceled prom rather than let a lesbian high school student attend the prom with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo to the event. In papers filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students at the school and charges Itawamba County School District officials are violating Constance McMillen’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
“All I wanted was the same chance to enjoy my prom night like any other student. But my school would rather hurt all the students than treat everyone fairly,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. “This isn’t just about me and my rights anymore — now I’m fighting for the right of all the students at my school to have our prom.”
Today’s filing comes after Itawamba County School District issued a statement yesterday saying they were canceling prom, following a letter from the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanding that they reverse their decision. McMillen said that before that happened, school officials had told her that she could not arrive at the prom with her girlfriend, also a student at IAHS, and that they might be thrown out if any other students complained about their presence at the April 2 event.
“Itawamba school officials are trying to turn Constance into the villain who called the whole thing off, and that just isn’t what happened. She’s fighting for everyone to be able to enjoy the prom,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “The government, and that includes public schools, can’t censor someone’s free expression just because some other person might not like it.”
Constance McMillen didn't believe her Mississippi school district would really call off her senior prom rather than allow her to show up with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. On Thursday, a day after the Itawamba County school board did just that, the 18-year-old lesbian high school senior reluctantly returned to campus to some unfriendly looks, she said. "Somebody said, 'Thanks for ruining my senior year.'" McMillen said.
The students at Itawamba Agricultural High School are blaming McMillen for the cancellation of their prom—not the school board that cancelled their prom, but McMillen. Another report:
The school board met Wednesday and announced it was canceling the prom after McMillen challenged the same-sex date ban.... Mississippi ACLU legal director Kristy Bennett said school officials are trying to make a villain out of McMillen. Bennett said McMillen attended school today, but was "a little stressed out."
"She left early and said that it is pretty tense. A lot of students won't look her in the eye," she said.
Today she's being glared at and ostracized. What's going to happen to McMillen tomorrow? And next week? And the week after that? What's going to happen to her as the date of the cancelled prom approaches?
This is from an open letter written by Superintendent Teresa McNeece that's posted to the Itawamba County School District website:
Our mission statement of "Striving to Provide a Quality Education to Every Child" is the sincere goal of each and every employee of this school district. Whether it is a bus driver, lunchroom worker, maintenance staff, teacher, administrator, secretary, aide, or volunteer, we all have that passion in our hearts to make sure each student can reach their potential while in the care of ICSD.
Unless a student is an uppity lesbian, of course, in which case Superintendent McNeece and the Itawamba School Board will do as much damage as they can to any student unlucky enough to be left in their dubious and conditional "care."
The Itawamba County School Board claims they cancelled prom to end this "distraction." Let's make sure that abusing vulnerable gay teenagers creates a much bigger distraction—and much bigger headaches—for the Itawamba Country school system than tolerance would have. Keep those emails, phone calls, and faxes coming: