Cat Cora speaks out on prom controversy

Chef Cat Cora (Photo by Robert Quailer)
Chef Cat Cora (Photo by Robert Quailer)

Okay, I admit to being a big fan of “Iron Chef America” on The Food Network. My only complaint was that they didn’t have Cat Cora on there enough. And that was before I found out that Chef Cora was an out-and-proud lesbian.

This morning I discovered even more reason to be a Cat Cora fan: She is speaking up in support of Constance McMillen, the lesbian senior who wanted to take her girlfriend to the senior prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi, but ended up seeing school officials cancel the prom completely rather than let her and her girlfriend attend.

Turns out that Chef Cora is from Mississippi, and she is, she says, “outraged” by what’s happened, and has “pledged to take action,” according to a press release I received this morning.

Here’s more from the press release:

“I was that girl from Mississippi one time,” the Wingfield High School graduate (Chef Cora) said. “I hate seeing things that reinforce negative attitudes about Mississippi like this.” Cora was in Washington last week cooking dinner for President Obama and the Greek prime minister. She said she would like to make a personal appearance at the prom. “This is the 21st century. This is a time for us to unite and support each other,” she said. “This isn’t just for (McMillen’s) civil rights. This is for all Americans’ civil rights, whether they know it or not.”

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Date set for hearing in lesbian's suit over senior prom

Constance McMillen will get her day in court. And that day will be Monday, March 22.

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Constance, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., after IAHS officials canceled the senior prom rather than let Constance wear a tuxedo and take her girlfriend as a date to the prom. The judge has set the first hearing in the case for next Monday.

Constance McMillen
Constance McMillen

Constance and the ACLU are asking the court to issue an injunction forcing the school to hold the prom.

The prom was originally set for April 2.

In a recent interview with Dan Savage, Constance said that she has had a hard time in her hometown since th prom was cancelled. She told Savage:

“The locals don’t like me, but I can’t help it. And things were really hostile in school last week after they cancelled prom. People were rude, and if people talked to me at all it was real short answers. There are a few people who are with me, my real friends, people who are intelligent enough to realize what’s really going on here. But the majority are not on my side.”

She also asked that supporters who want to write letters to IAHS officials “please be respectful. No one hears if you’re screaming and mad and cussing and stuff. Tell them exactly how you feel, but in a respectful way.”

A Facebook page in support of Constance already has more than 320,000 fans.

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No prom at Itawamba Agricultural High

All that Constance McMillen wanted was the chance to take the person she is dating to her high school prom — which doesn’t seem like a big deal. Except that Constance, 18, is an out lesbian and the person she is dating is a sophomore

Constance McMillen
Constance McMillen

girl, and officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi just couldn’t let that happen.

(Constance also wanted to wear a tuxedo. That’s a big no-no at IAHS, too.)

So Constance went to the ACLU and asked for help. The ACLU sent the school a letter demanding the school district change its policy. And school district officials have now responded by canceling prom outright.

School board members issued this statement: “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.”

Maybe, the school board members, the people of the community could put together a prom for the kids. (Although Constance probably wouldn’t be able to take her girlfriend or wear a tux to that one, either.)

Constance is aghast. “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 told USA Today. “A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this.”

Read more about it here.

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ACLU fighting Mississippi school's 'no lesbians at the prom' rule

Constance McMillen, 18, is a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi. She is also a lesbian. And she wants to take her girlfriend to her senior prom.

School officials said no. They said Constance and her girlfriend cannot arrive at the prom together and Constance cannot wear a tuxedo to the prom. They can both go to the prom separately, and if they both wear the “appropriate attire.” But then, if any of the other students complain about them being there, Constance and her girlfriend will be thrown out.

(From the way the press release was written, it implies that the lesbian couple’s mere presence is enough to make other students uncomfortable enough to complain and warrant the couple’s ejection from the event.)

So now, the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition have issued a demand that Itawamba County Schools officials reverse their decision and let Constance and her girlfriend attend prom as a couple. The two groups sent a letter to school officials that “cited federal court cases guaranteeing students’ First Amendment right to bring same-sex dates to school dances, and also pointed out that treating McMillen and other lesbian, gay, and bisexual students differently from other students violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees. In addition to illegally barring McMillen and her girlfriend from attending the prom together, the ACLU said that the school further violated McMillen’s free expression rights by telling her that she can’t wear a tuxedo to the prom,” according to the press release from the ACLU.

Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said: “Prom is supposed to be about all students being able to express themselves, have fun, and make memories that will last the rest of their lives. Constance has a constitutional right to take the person she’s dating to the prom, just like any other student at any other public school.”

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