It’s spring: Let the prom battles begin

Posted on 17 Mar 2010 at 4:43pm

Once again, a lesbian student is having to fight anti-gay school policies to take who she wants and wear what she wants to prom

The month of March has come to mean one thing to me: Prom struggles. Last year at exactly the same time I wrote about a lesbian in Indiana who sued her school district for the right to wear a tuxedo to her prom. She was represented by the ACLU and Men’s Wearhouse. Now a case in Mississippi is making national, even international, news.

We’re at a place in this country where LGBT teenagers are willing to fight for their rights, and they’re running smack up against adults who believe they have none.

Witness the events in Fulton, Miss., home to fewer than 4,000 people. Constance McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, wanted to take her girlfriend, another student, to the April 2 prom. She also wanted to wear a tuxedo. She might as well have wanted Adam Lambert to perform at the prom.

School officials said she and her girlfriend wouldn’t be allowed to arrive together and that they might be thrown out if other students felt uncomfortable. And ix-nay on the tux.

After that chat, the school circulated a memo forbidding same-sex dates.

McMillen turned to the ACLU. Considering how that organization supports Sapphic teens through their prom distress, I now consider ACLU an acronym for Against Causing Lesbians Unhappiness.

The ACLU of Mississippi sent the school district a letter demanding McMillen be allowed to bring whom she wished and wear what she wished, or else legal action might ensue.

In last year’s Indiana case, when the ACLU filed a lawsuit the school district reversed its policy requiring girls to wear dresses to the prom. Would muscle-flexing work similarly in Mississippi?

Is the Pope from Biloxi?

The Itawamba County Board of Education cancelled the prom. Rather than relent, compromise or fight, these leaders took their prom and went home.

"Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events" the school district won’t host a prom this year, the board said in a one-paragraph statement. "It is our hope that private citizens will organize an event for the juniors and seniors." Private citizens who won’t be weighed down by questions of civil rights, and can merrily exclude anyone they want. Segregation for the 21st century.

"A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it’s really retaliation," McMillen told The Clarion-Ledger.

The morning after the decision McMillen would’ve preferred gum surgery to going to school, but her father said she should face her classmates.

"My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I’m still proud of who I am," she told The Associated Press. "The fact that this will help people later on, that’s what’s helping me to go on."

She wound up leaving school early, owing to the tension. Someone said to her, "Thanks for ruining my senior year."

That day the ACLU filed suit against the school district, asking the prom be reinstated, and McMillen be allowed to bring a same-sex date and wear a tuxedo.

I’d also like the school board members be required to serve the two girls punch, but I guess that’s beyond reach.

While some in the area side with the school board, others differ. "There are some people on the board who think they are the last word," said Diane Roberts, a Fulton hairstylist, to USA Today. "You can’t judge people like that. That’s between them and their good Lord."

A Steel Magnolia, bless her.

With newspaper coverage, television appearances and Facebook action, McMillen is in a whirlwind. "I didn’t want a bunch of media," she said. "But it’s good because now other kids are going to know that they have rights, too."

Which means stay tuned for next year’s prom rumpus.

Without rumpuses, Leslie Robinson would have no career. E-mail her at lesarobinson@gmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 19, 2010.

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