School Cancels Prom Instead of Allowing Lesbian to Attend

You’ve probably heard the story of Constance McMillen by now — she’s the high school senior who wanted to wear a tuxedo and attend prom with her girlfriend. The school board responded by canceling prom altogether.

Morons.

McMillen is taking this all very well considering the school board is forcing the other students to blame her for their idiotic decision.

Constance McMillen said she didn’t want to go back the day after the Itawamba County school board’s decision, but her father told her she needed to face her classmates, teachers and school officials.

“My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I’m still proud of who I am,” McMillen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “The fact that this will help people later on, that’s what’s helping me to go on.”

I’m amazed by that kind of courage, especially knowing this is all taking place in Mississippi, in an area steeped with Christians trying to force their beliefs onto everyone else.

Case in point:

Itawamba County is a rural area of about 23,000 people in north Mississippi near the Alabama state line. It’s near Pontotoc County, Miss., where more than a decade ago school officials were sued in federal court over their practice of student-led intercom prayer and Bible classes.

The school lost the case in 1996 and I have confidence they’ll lose this case, too.

Isn’t it great whenever a student has to be the one to educate the people who are running the school?

There is an upside to this case, coming from the American Humanist Association:

AHA members Todd and Diana Steifel made a $20,000 grant available to the AHA for the purpose of holding a prom in Itawamba County. The AHA will be discussing logistics with the pertinent parties today.

It would be wonderful to see students coming to an inclusive prom, supportive of all their classmates, rather than the one created in order to exclude.

(Thanks to mudwasp for the link)

  • Kit

    I don’t know who the right person to contact would be, but there’s a Mississippi LGBT organization working on a Second Chance Prom for all the kids too. Maybe the AHA could lend a hand?

    http://mssafeschools.org/

  • Jude

    At my overly religious public high school, a rather stupid Rush Limbaugh-listener teaches high school social studies. I learned on Friday that in the archaeology class he teaches (which he inherited–they fired the teacher who designed the course, and this guy has no credentials to teach physical anthropology), he had everyone in the class research and report on the Ark of the Covenant. I emailed him and offered to be a guest lecturer since I’m knowledgeable about US Southwest and Mexican anthropology and archaeology. He responded, “How many days will you need?” I’m thinking about the subversive knowledge I’m going to pass along in my stimulating lecture and hands-on activities. I wonder if this whacked-out anti-evolutionist realizes that I will talk about migrations to the U.S. that happened more than 6,000 years ago and the utility of Carbon-14 dating. I can hardly wait.

  • Jeff Dale

    I hope there’s plenty of news coverage of the fact that some atheists donated money for a prom that Constance and her classmates, including the Xian ones, can enjoy in place of the one that was canceled.

    Of course, some of those Xians won’t attend, either because it doesn’t exclude homosexuals, or because it’s funded by atheists, or both.

    But I imagine that some Xians will attend, either because they just want their prom regardless, or because they don’t mind homosexuals and atheists that much. These Xians will have some food for thought, won’t they?

    The Steifels’ gesture is the exact opposite of the Smut For Smut campaign at UTSA. If the latter causes many theists to tar the rest of us with a broad brush, we should trumpet the former as a great counter-example.

  • chris

    Is anyone else singing “Footloose” in their heads right now?

    Way to go, Todd and Diana!!

  • Jeff Dale

    Here’s a link to the AHA press release:

    Humanists Prepare to Hold LGBT-Inclusive Prom in Mississippi

    Nice definition of humanism at the end, too.

    I posted that link on my FB feed with the following lead-in:

    Looks like the prom will go on after all. Secular humanists stepped forward with a grant to replace the prom that the school board canceled rather than rescind their hetero-only rule. Justice and generosity FTW.

    Feel free to use or adapt if you like.

  • Evan

    When I heard about AHA chipping in to provide these kids a memorable night they deserve, I had to mention it on my own blog. I also felt compelled to point out that 16 years ago I had my own Senior prom. My ex-girlfriend had just recently un-closeted herself and everyone knew she would show up with her girlfriend. No one made a fuss. Other than your normal High School drama (which was also directed at me since, you know, I was somehow incapable of keeping her hetero or something), no one really cared that much. Not even the teachers.

    16 years ago, my high school didn’t care about a lesbian couple attending prom and these days another school feels compelled to shut down an entire event because of one lesbian couple. Mississippi went backward a couple decades there.

    But kudos to AHA for stepping up.

  • bigjohn756

    Let me see… In order to not have the prom disrupted by a lesbian couple, the school administration cancels the prom, which, of course, won’t disrupt anything. Makes sense to me.

    I wonder how many of the students in this huge High School:
    1)didn’t know about Constance and her friend.
    2)didn’t think that they should be attending the prom.
    3)Or, even cared one way or the other what went on as long as they had a nice prom.

    I don’t know how much a prom for these kids would cost, but, I expect that the $20,000 given to them by the AHA should give them a dandy celebration. I’m guessing it’s about twice as much as was available to spend originally. I hope so.

  • http://virtualityforreal.blogspot.com/ Alankrita

    What was even more asinine than what the school did was how Fox news was analyzing the whole thing. Flipping channels this morning I heard a blonde go on and on about how she did not need to make it so public and could have gone with her girlfriend as a “friend”.

  • http://www.givesgoodemail.com Givesgoodemail

    See my post for contact info for the school superintendent in question.

  • Hybrid

    Major kudos to Todd and Diana Steifel, and the AHA!

  • me

    “I heard a blonde go on and on about how she did not need to make it so public and could have gone with her girlfriend as a ‘friend.’”

    –which means that that person didn’t read the coverage very carefully. Her date was a sophomore, who could only go to the prom as somebody’s date. They wouldn’t let a girl buy a date ticket for another girl.

  • http://www.DangerousTalk.net DangerousTalk

    Here is an Examiner story on it: Atheist group offers to hold gay friendly prom
    -Staks

  • http://atheistcamel.blogspot.com/ Dromedary Hump

    Is it any surprise that Mississippi is THE most religious state in the Union, per the Pew survey?

    They have among the highest unemployment rates, crime rates, poverty, and teen pregnancy? That they have among the lowest rated educational systems, and IQ (yes, ave IQ by state is available on line).

    Their god has truely blessed them for their religious devotion. he made them stupid bigoted and backward.

  • http://www.twitter.com/marajade13 Mara Jade

    I can proudly say that I attended my Junior prom with a bi-sexual classmate. We both wore dresses and were the first ones out on the dance floor.
    It makes me so sad and just confused when I see things like this happening… D=
    Also, this.
    http://www.wafb.com/Global/story.asp?S=12130767

  • rbray18

    i 1st heard about this on a local radio station this morning.
    this being Oklahoma 1 host tried to defend the school by bring up a lovely what if.
    he said “what if another kid has a dog he really loves and wants to bring him to the dance?” his co host had a great response though “yeah but the dog’s not a human”.
    and never heard a mention of aha trying to sponsor a private prom of course.

  • Gruntled

    I can see this story ending up with two competing proms by the end. One sponsored by church groups that will exclude anyone they don’t like and the other inclusive one sponsored by groups like the AHA.

    If that happens it will be interesting to see which one the kids will choose to attend.

  • http://thesciencepundit.blogspot.com/ The Science Pundit

    From the ACLU:

    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.

  • Ethan Straffin

    Hemant: when you say you’re confident that the school will lose this case, I’m curious to know why. While I’m as dismayed and disgusted by the situation as anyone, it seems to me that students have no “right” to a prom, and that the district is well within its legal rights not to hold one (whether or not it gives a reason). I don’t see how it’s comparable to the 1996 case, where there was a clear violation of church/state separation. What am I missing?

    Constance, Todd, Diana, the AHA, and the ACLU have my thanks and my support, and I hope I don’t sound like a wet blanket. Just trying to get a better handle on the legal outlook, since IANAL.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    . . . and I have confidence they’ll lose this case, too.

    I’d be surprised if they did. At this point, the school isn’t doing anything explicitly discriminatory. They’re just not having a prom, which is something any school might reasonably decide to do. Don’t get me wrong – the school’s actual reasons are wretched and bigoted – but I’d be surprised if a court decided it appropriate to question their motivations, and then decide that those motivations made an otherwise acceptable decision unacceptable.

  • http://thegodlessmonster.com/ The Godless Monster

    I’m so impressed with the bravery of Constance. It had to have been tough to go back to school the day after the announcement that the prom was canceled. I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been. What a courageous young lady.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    This comment from a fellow student “I don’t agree with homosexuality, but I can’t change what another person thinks or does.” I think has the right idea. Whatever their personal feelings with regard to homosexuality it is still right to be inclucive of others.

  • Claudia

    @Jude, please write back sometime and tell us how your lectures went, I’d love to hear it!

    Facebook page “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom”, currently with about 10 times more members than the population of her town:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817

    A hotel owner in New Orleans is offering to bus the kids into one of his hotels and throw an inclusive party for all of them for free:
    http://www.ksnt.com/news/national/story/Hotel-owner-offers-prom-for-Mississippi-students/AMhgU-R5RkWdBhE92M2ZDA.cspx

    It’s a real shame that the superindendent and school officials felt the need to bully a teenager. Left alone it would have traumatized her and sent a message to all the closeted teens around her that they will never be accepted. However this turn of events might actually end up sending the opposite message. Even if you are a in a tiny little southern town, there are people out there in the world who care about you and will accept you for who you are.

  • muggle

    Disgusting. They should take the hotel owner up on that offer or throw one of their own locally if there’s a venue large enough. Of course, the cost is prohibitive.

    I wish I was confident they’d win the case too. The way it’s been going lately, it’s a crap shoot even when the case seems open and shut.

  • kenneth

    @ethan I think the problem is not that they surreptitiously cancelled a prom or made some monetary decision, they expressly cancelled it as her fault. They are setting up a situation that will create anger and frustration aimed at only one person. This could (and should) be considered incitement to violence or another equivalent charge. This is the type of activity by the “adults” that causes youths to assault classmates, sometimes ending in death.

  • Casimir

    While I’m as dismayed and disgusted by the situation as anyone, it seems to me that students have no “right” to a prom, and that the district is well within its legal rights not to hold one (whether or not it gives a reason).

    At this point, the school isn’t doing anything explicitly discriminatory. They’re just not having a prom, which is something any school might reasonably decide to do.

    I’ve been seing a lot of people suggest that the school board successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the court, or that the legal system is unfamiliar with situations like these.

    The ACLU has asked for a preliminary injunction for the prom to continue. An injunction “is a court order requiring an individual to do or omit doing a specific action. It is an extraordinary remedy that courts utilize in special cases where preservation of the status quo or taking some specific action is required in order to prevent possible injustice.” (Source) In this particular case, the status quo is “holding the prom”, and the possible injustice is denying Ms. McMillen entry to the prom based on her sexual orientation.

    IANAL, but it seems pretty straightforward. Otherwise it would be too easy a loophole to take advantage of.

    Some examples of mandatory injunctions:

    So-called “mandatory” injunctions which require acts to be performed, may include return of property, keeping a gate to a road unlocked, clearing off tree limbs from a right-of-way, turning on electricity or heat in an apartment building, or depositing disputed funds with the court.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Casimir, I’m aware that courts can issue injunctions, I’m just saying that it doesn’t strike me as too likely. It’s possible, but I would hardly call it straightforward. Having a discriminatory policy is legally different than having a non-discriminatory policy for discriminatory reasons. The school is at this point not, as you claim, “denying Ms. McMillen entry to the prom based on her sexual orientation.” They’re denying all students entry to the prom, without any discrimination based on sexual orientation. That’s not “pulling the wool over the eyes of the court,” or using a “loophole” – their policy at this point is actually not discriminatory. (Please don’t interpret as me defending the school as decent or their actions as morally defensible; I’m just talking about their legal position.)

    The school has discriminatory motives for its actions but that’s a different matter. Courts can and do look into the motives for otherwise acceptable executive actions, and decide that they’re illegitimate, but they’re reluctant to. And courts can order the executive to actively carry out a certain policy, but they’re very reluctant to – the much more normal case is to order the executive to not do something (e.g. its easier to tell the executive to stop building a highway than to tell them to start building one). There are good reasons for these biases, but even if there weren’t, the courts do have these biases, and while it’s possible to overcome them, it’s not easy to.

    As an example, in the 1990′s, a judge in Utah ruled that schools in Salt Lake City had to allow gay non-academic student clubs to form if they allowed other non-academic student clubs to form. In response, the city decided to just not allow any non-academic student clubs, and the courts said that this was OK. This case is not identical, but there are similar principles. I’m not saying the ACLU doesn’t have a case, just that it’s not a great one; if I was betting on it, I’d bet against them.

  • kenneth

    @autumnal harvest I disagree completely, both on reasoning and strength of case. In the utah decision, there was plenty of time to say that the clubs won’t be allowed any longer. This affected many students and did not hinder the complaining students.
    In this case, the school stopped the prom -in the same classes year that it will affect- in order to disallow a single participant. This is a clear cut case of discrimination that has the added dimension of purposefully increasing anger, intolerance, and hatred by blaming the girl for the lack of a prom.

  • Neon Genesis

    “The school is at this point not, as you claim, “denying Ms. McMillen entry to the prom based on her sexual orientation.” They’re denying all students entry to the prom, without any discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

    But the reason they’re banning all proms as far as I’m aware is to keep lesbians from going to the prom. How is that not denying entry based on sexual orientation? If the school was denying entry to an interracial couple because they hated blacks, and decided to ban all proms so they wouldn’t have to let in an interracial couple, isn’t that clearly for racial discrimination?

  • Claudia

    If the school was denying entry to an interracial couple because they hated blacks, and decided to ban all proms so they wouldn’t have to let in an interracial couple, isn’t that clearly for racial discrimination?

    Yes, and its also a great example because that’s precisely what happened in many schools in the South in response to integration policies that prevented them from banning interracial couples. Schools stopped hosting proms and instead collaborated with parents in private, racially segregated proms. So far as I’m aware the courts could do nothing, and this strikes me as a similar case.

    Certainly the school district could be sued and possibly lose a discrimination case against the girl. I think it could be persuasively argued that they victimized her for her sexuality and imposed the ban in such a manner that would cause retaliation against her. They could be forced to pay damages. However that doesn’t mean they can be forced to reinstate the prom. Even in the unlikely event they could force it this year, next year the school could pre-emptively decide to not host a prom for “budget” reasons and it would be nearly impossible to stop.

  • Casimir

    The school is at this point not, as you claim, “denying Ms. McMillen entry to the prom based on her sexual orientation.” They’re denying all students entry to the prom, without any discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Ms. McMillen is one of those students and she is being denied entry to the prom. The sole reason Ms. McMillen (along with her fellow students) is being denied entry is due to her sexual orientation. I would ask if there’s any part of that you don’t understand, but looking at this next quote you seem to understand it quite well:

    (Please don’t interpret as me defending the school as decent or their actions as morally defensible; I’m just talking about their legal position.)

    Judges don’t have to check their brains at the door, they have a bit of leeway in using their judgement (pun intended). Now I agree with you that courts are reluctant to hand out mandatory injuctions and that the preventative injuctions are much more common, but the defendants definitely have a legal basis and a fighting chance.

    As an example, in the 1990’s, a judge in Utah ruled that schools in Salt Lake City had to allow gay non-academic student clubs to form if they allowed other non-academic student clubs to form. In response, the city decided to just not allow any non-academic student clubs, and the courts said that this was OK. This case is not identical, but there are similar principles.

    Salt Lake City School Board lost that case. At one point an injunction was filed to allow a gay club to meet and was granted. (Source.) Whether that’s likely in this case I don’t know, but it’s possible.

    @Claudia:

    They could be forced to pay damages. However that doesn’t mean they can be forced to reinstate the prom. Even in the unlikely event they could force it this year, next year the school could pre-emptively decide to not host a prom for “budget” reasons and it would be nearly impossible to stop.

    Well, that’s how they force it, with the possibility of fines/jail time if they don’t comply. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to defy a court order.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Beth

    I am willing to bet that most of the students really wouldn’t have cared one way or the other if a lesbian couple attended the prom. For a lot of high-schoolers, prom is a big fucking deal, and as long as you get to go and have fun, who cares what other people do (or who their dates are)?

    I can hardly believe that they actually canceled the prom to avoid “disruption.” Homophobia at its finest. :/

  • Aj

    It’s not the same as denying entry in a discriminating way, but it’s consequentially the same for those being discriminated against. It is discrimination, what they’re doing is only allowing proms to go ahead if only heterosexual couples plan to attend.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    Schools stopped hosting proms and instead collaborated with parents in private, racially segregated proms. So far as I’m aware the courts could do nothing, and this strikes me as a similar case.

    Sadly, there are still places in the country that have segregated proms for precisely this reason. I saw a fascinating documentary last year about the first integrated prom in a small town in Mississippi — in 2008!

    Prom Night in Mississippi

  • me

    Her dad sounds like a cool guy.