Constance McMillen Gets School to Change Discrimination Policy

Constance McMillen, the girl whose prom was canceled so that she couldn’t attend it with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, finally has a victory after all that she’s been through.

[The Itawamba County School District] agreed to implement a policy banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first policy to do so at a public school in the state of Mississippi. The school also agreed to pay McMillen $35,000 in damages and pay for McMillen’s attorneys’ fees.

Wow. Go ACLU!

I hope Constance uses whatever money is left over after lawyers’ fees and uses it to get the hell out of that backwards state. If I thought her presence could help change the way GLBT students are seen by others, I’d encourage her to stay, but that’s not the case at the moment.

For that perception to change, it would take Christians changing their churches from the inside. In other words, it’s probably not going to happen. Where were the Christians during all this? Nowhere. Most of them are too cowardly to stand up against their church doctrine when it comes to homosexuality. (But if I’m wrong and you know a Christian trying to make a difference within his/her church in that state, please let me know.)

It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for a public school district to acknowledge they shouldn’t be discriminating against their own students due to sexual orientation.

At least we have a strong precedent for the future; hopefully, no other gay or lesbian student in Mississippi will have to deal with similar problems.

Constance took this all in stride:

“I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s worth it if it changes things at my school,” said McMillen, who was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year. “I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school.”

This is a fantastic lesson in what can happen when you stay true to yourself and face the bigots head-on.

I think the American Humanist Association deserves some love for throwing her the prom her school refused to give her.

And the ACLU deserves massive credit for their court victory. If you’re not already a member of the ACLU, show them your support.

(via @antiheroine)

  • synergy

    “I hope Constance uses whatever money is left over after lawyers’ fees and uses it to get the hell out of that backwards state.”

    . . .

    “This is a fantastic lesson in what can happen when you stay true to yourself and face the bigots head-on.”

    Which is it? Because personally I think the latter is imperative and why I’m always annoyed when yet another person leaves a conservative state/city because of things like this. If all of the people who’ve ever left for NYC or California or wherever had stayed put and fought the ignorance, maybe things like this wouldn’t still be rampant.

  • http://centerforinquiry.net/dc Simon

    For the record, there were a couple of Christian churches marching behind the CFI DC group at the DC Gay Pride parade last month.

  • Angel

    You get annoyed when someone leaves a situation in which they are being harassed and vilified? Poor you.

    This teenager had the support of hundreds of thousands of people, a team of lawyers, and she still was drummed out of her community. I hate to think of what might have happened to her if she hadn’t focused the public eye on her town.

  • cathy

    @synergy, she doesn’t have a duty to stay or to leave. That said, she has a right to live her life as she decides, she doesn’t have to live in a way that makes her a constant martyr for any cause. “If all of the people who’ve ever left for NYC or California or wherever had stayed put and fought the ignorance, maybe things like this wouldn’t still be rampant.” Or maybe they’d be dead. You don’t get to decide what level of horror someone has to submit themselves to.

    On another note, I do hate the idea that northerners and urbanites are somehow homophobia free. In many ways, I hate northern homophobia more than southern. Southern bigotry is very open, in your face, which carries its own risks, but at least it isn’t insidious like northern faux-ally homophobia. No southerner proclaims themself our friend while using that position to weasel into our circles to police us and look down on us. Every northern queer person knows those self proclaimed allies who try to police our communities and deny us rights as certainly as any homophobe in the south, but does it while hiding behind the label of ally so that they can act the injured party when we call them out on their shit. At least amoung southerners I can know my friends from my enemies.

  • Angie

    This is great! Constance is finally receiving justice after her difficult ordeal.

  • SteveC

    According to her recent appearance on the Wanda Sykes show, iirc, she plans to spend the next 8 years in university and grad school in Mississippi, and then move to that hotbed of liberalism — Tennessee.

  • Ron in Houston

    Since it’s a Section 1983 action, the 35K in damages should all go to Constance. Attorneys fees and costs are awarded separately from the judgment.

  • http://whatpalebluedot.blogspot.com WhatPaleBlueDot

    It’s such a shame that valuable education resources have been wasted on this whole mess. It’s too bad they have to be forced to join this millennium.

  • bigjohn756

    The ACLU gets my vote for everything except their twisted stance on the Second Amendment. After they wake up and reconsider that the Second Amendment supports an individual right like all of the ten items in the Bill of Rights do, then and only then will they get my money.

  • http://winghamatheist.blogspot.com/ Chris Burke

    To be fair I have a Catholic friend who is very pro gay-rights. Goes to drag shows even. But you are right, this is a religious.

  • Regina

    It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for a public school district to acknowledge they shouldn’t be discriminating against their own students due to sexual orientation.

    It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for a public school district to acknowledge that they shouldn’t be discriminating period.

  • Rieux

    I hope Constance uses whatever money is left over after lawyers’ fees and uses it to get the hell out of that backwards state.

    Just as a small point of clarification, the award to Constance was $35,000 plus attorney’s fees. So she doesn’t need to pay her lawyers out of the $35K (and I’m sure they were representing her pro bono anyway; no way the ACLU lawyers want her money, though they’ll happily accept, and indeed fight for, the ill-fated school district’s dough).

    She’ll have to pay taxes on the $35K award, of course, but otherwise that’s her money, free and clear.

  • VXbinaca

    I’m glad this is finally over so I can stop hearing about her. I really am glad things mostly worked out for her in the end (you can’t replace a prom).

  • Drew M

    The ACLU gets my vote for everything except their twisted stance on the Second Amendment.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Richard P.

    My question is who is going to be fired for this. Should not every person within the school and the board that allowed this to get to this point have to answer for it? Is there no state over site? Or am I just being stupid to think someone in that state must see what a waste of funds this has been?

    Sadly now I guess they will get to claim that are being persecuted. They will be the next line up of victims on the bible thumper talk shows.

  • Tom H from Cleveland

    Is it okay to say “God bless the ACLU”?

  • VXbinaca

    @bigjohn756 and DrewM

    The ACLU gets my vote for everything except their twisted stance on the Second Amendment.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    Well gentlemen, the good news is local ACLU chapters are changing their stances more and more. Theres like 5 states that have gone against national on the gun issue.

    It’s a cultural issue and we’re winning. Not unlike the south with segregation, holplophobes will need a generation for it to sink in it’s a civil right and has been so since the country was founded. But culturally we are winning and things are starting to change.

    It’s nice to have some other atheist gun-rights advocates on th net. I felt so alone.

  • Don Rose

    It seems like the bullying from fellow students were a result of the prom being cancelled. It’s a shame the the original bullying, and cancellation of the prom seemed to be caused mostly by adults. Religion and bigotry work hand-in-hand.

  • john locke

    Tom, the ACLU has plenty of Christians in it, so it shouldn’t bother them.

    In my catholic-raised experience, people often just take a blind eye to their churches stances that they don’t agree with. The problem is that with Catholicism there really isn’t any way for lay people to change things other than leaving, which they don’t want to do. So they just ignore the bad bits and my priests rarely bring up controversial subjects, so it was easy to do.

  • http://littlelioness.net Fiona

    We’ll see where she pops up in 10 years.

  • Ron in Houston

    She’ll have to pay taxes on the $35K award, of course, but otherwise that’s her money, free and clear.

    Actually, probably she won’t have to pay taxes. Damage awards are only taxable to the extent they represent things like lost income. To the extent the represent things like pain, suffering or embarrassment, they are not taxable.

  • Drew M

    @VXbinaca

    That is indeed awesome news.

    It’s nice to have some other atheist gun-rights advocates on th net. I felt so alone.

    I hear you. I actually stopped voting for a while because of the cognitive dissonance associated with being a liberal gun owner. I may start a thread on the FA forums. I’ll post a link if I do.

  • VXbinaca

    I actually stopped voting for a while because of the cognitive dissonance associated with being a liberal gun owner.

    I’m libertarian but I’ll take liberal over some of these guys I see on ar-15.com any day of the week who scare the crap out of me with their stupidity.

    Yes please do link if you do.

  • Robin

    “For the record, there were a couple of Christian churches marching behind the CFI DC group at the DC Gay Pride parade last month.”

    Groups like these are fine, but you have to realize that they represent the exception to the rule. When full GLBT rights are embraced by the vast majority of Christian churches, I’ll be impressed.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  • Neon Genesis

    It should be noted that Constance herself is a Christian http://www.slate.com/id/2259423 “And Constance herself is the kind of young woman a state entirely mired in bigotry can’t produce. Though she doesn’t belong to a church, McMillen describes herself as an “open-minded Christian” and a strong believer in monogamy, which she expresses in a distinctly evangelical way. “Actually, I have a promise ring from my girlfriend, and I’m pretty sure that within the next year she’s going to propose. Of course, we wouldn’t get married until she’s 18.” One male student once asked McMillen’s girlfriend, “How can you be redneck and gay at the same time?” which seems tantamount to proof that the woman in front of him had that figured out. McMillen would like to live in Los Angeles when she gets older, but that is due in part to many, many hours spent watching the L Word. Her girlfriend says she doesn’t want to come because she can’t hunt there.”

  • Marilyn

    Let’s also call some attention to the mention of gender identity in the new discrimination policy. Advocacy for cis LGB people is great, but LGBT is not a synonym for “lesbian and gay”, and homophobia is not the only kind of bigotry targeted at queer people. (And this school in particular does not have a history of treating trans students well.)


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