ACLU Fights Prom Cancellation | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

ACLU Fights Prom Cancellation

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The Mississippi ACLU will file a motion for preliminary injunction next week, on behalf of Itawamba Agricultural County School student Constance McMillen.

To help protect teen Constance McMillen's decision to bring her girlfriend to the prom, the Mississippi ACLU will file an injunction next week to prevent the Itawamba County School District from canceling the school's prom. The district's school board announced the cancellation of the dance, previously scheduled for April 2, on Wednesday, March 10.

"We'll be filing a motion for injunctive relief or a restraining order to get the prom put back on and Constance to bring her girlfriend, but I can't say for sure what day," said Mississippi ACLU Legal Director Kristy Bennett. "The basis for the injunction is that they canceled the prom to avoid their legal obligations. It's still a First Amendment issue. Instead of allowing her to bring her girlfriend, they've moved the public forum."

Last week, the ACLU filed suit against the district to reverse a county school policy that prevents McMillan, a lesbian, from bringing her girlfriend to the prom. McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School, convinced the organization to intervene on her behalf after school administrators tried to enforce its policy and additionally, prohibited McMillen from wearing a tuxedo to the dance.

The ACLU will file a motion for a preliminary injunction next week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi Eastern Division in hopes of setting a court date before April 2.

The school board said in a statement last week that the firestorm of the prom and McMillen's legal challenge to it caused "distractions" to education, and that the board, in canceling the event, was taking into account the "education, safety and well being" of its students.

The board asked patrons to host a private event.

Bennett said the point of contention in the board's defense may be its denial that it canceled the prom to avoid addressing McMillen's sexuality: "Their statement doesn't say that's their reason, but their timing says they didn't want to deal with Constance."

Kristy Asken, organizer for the Jackson branch of Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays--PFLAG--said the board is intentionally trying to alienate McMillen from her fellow seniors in killing the event.

"McMillen's classmates are going to hold the cancelation against her, even though it's not directly her fault. The board can play dumb and say they're doing it for the students, but they're only trying to make her look bad," Asken said. "High school is a nightmare already, especially when you're standing up for what's right. I just hate that when our state makes national news it's usually for something like this."

The state drew similar attention last year when the Copiah County School District refused to agree to ACLU demands to allow Wesson Attendance Center senior Ceara Sturgis to wear a tuxedo for her 2009 yearbook photo. Sturgis never won her place in the yearbook, and Bennett says the ACLU "is still assessing legal options for Sturgis to pursue."

Previous Comments

ID
156730
Comment

It's sickening that in 2010, bigotry is still alive. That's the only reason why this prom was cancelled. That it's happening in Mississippi makes it even more sad, given our history of discrimination in this state.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-03-12T15:08:35-06:00
ID
156734
Comment

Both Sean Cummings, owner of the International House Hotel in New Orleans and The American Humanist Association have stepped up and offered to hold a prom for IAHS, good for both of them!! It is my understanding that both of these offers include the entire class, so they may end up having a much nicer prom than they would have if Constance had not spoken up for herself. http://neworleans.metblogs.com/2010/03/12/sean-cummings-steps-up-to-the-plate-for-mississippis-lgbt-teens/ http://www.americanhumanist.org/news/details/2010-03-humanists-prepare-to-hold-lgbt-inclusive-prom-in-miss

Author
Macedonian
Date
2010-03-12T18:09:23-06:00
ID
156740
Comment

Our PUBLIC school (in the 1990's) had a prom and a "private prom" segregated on race from the git go from the days of integration. When I was started at this school, it had been changed to an fee prom and the school prom. Still mainly segregated, still backwards. Yet, for the three years I was there, African Americans attended "the white prom" and white kids went to the "black prom". These were people who could mingle with both races and not be idiots and not cause a scene. A decent number, but not near enough. These were the first steps made, stumbling steps, but still steps. The thing I find most ironic my last year in the mid nineties, at the "White prom" five gay/lesbian couples came and an eye was not batted; they also went to the "Black prom" and not an eye was batted. All the men wore tuxes and danced openly, I do not remember the women's attire, but they also danced openly together. There was a slight outrage when one guy wanted to wear a dress to "shock the community" It was not to shock, to gain attention, and that aggravated people. Strange how in a small Mississippi town, the gay issue was easier to get over than the race issue. I am proud of the hometown for one aspect of tolerance, just praying for it to really extend to all. The generations are changing...

Author
AGamm627
Date
2010-03-13T22:51:04-06:00
ID
156742
Comment

If it were up to me, I'd take up the offer of having a prom at the hotel in New Orleans. It would more nicer than anything they would've been able to have.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-03-15T08:36:30-06:00
ID
156745
Comment

MS public schools cancelled physical education classes and recess periods to keep little black boys and girls from seeing the legs of little white boys and girls. Now we are number one in the nation with kids suffering from obesity. MS closed public swimming pools for the same reason and once they were ordered to re-open, the pools were grown up with roots and debris: More money was spent to build new city pools. We also had a generation of children who could not swim. Now we are faced with still another ignorant and discriminatory process. This time against lesbians. This MS public school is trying to keep students away because of their sexuality? This will cost the school/State a lot of money because this is a case that they can not win. The task for this principal was to shut up. Let the kids come to the prom and have fun. Women wear tucks so what is the big deal??

Author
justjess
Date
2010-03-16T10:19:24-06:00
ID
156772
Comment

I understand and agree that the school can't prohibit a girl from taking a girl as a date to a school function under the protection of free speech. But the school has no obligation to have a prom, and regardless of what the ACLU has to say about it, will most likely not have the dance.

Author
RobbieR
Date
2010-03-17T08:53:30-06:00
ID
156785
Comment

NO, the school isn't under any obligation to have a prom; however, they can not cancel one that has been planned because a lesbian student will come with a female date. We will have to wait for the outcome on this one. I have a dollar bet on a victory for the student if anyone wants to take me up on it.

Author
justjess
Date
2010-03-18T10:01:14-06:00
ID
156788
Comment

They canceled it because they said it was "becoming a distraction to the educational process" which is probably true. Now we all know why they actually cancelled it, but I can't see how an injunction can force the school to have the party.

Author
RobbieR
Date
2010-03-18T12:06:14-06:00
ID
156789
Comment

Jess, Not only can they but they did. I think they probably canceled the prom because they knew their decision in this case would generate a lawsuit. So rather than just be inclusive they would rather deny the prom to everyone. That's just sad. Although, I also think it's sad that the school administrators and the ACLU are choosing our schools as the battleground for this issue. With limited resources they don't need to be spending them defending silly positions that don't educate our kids about anything other than the ridiculous lengths to which bigots will go to deny something to an individual or group who just wants to be themselves.

Author
WMartin
Date
2010-03-18T12:08:17-06:00
ID
156790
Comment

WMartin, I agree wholeheartily. I din't mean that the students would win the right to go ahead and have their prom: I was speaking to a bet that their case would be won in a court of law. It is sad that money has to be spent by our school system (tax payers) on something that should be a non-issue. Most of us have a friend, a relative, a child or someone in our space who is gay/lesbian. They are not asking to have a public showing of their sexuality anymore than a heterosexual would display a public scene of having sex. Just saying.

Author
justjess
Date
2010-03-18T12:41:57-06:00
ID
156886
Comment

Did anyone see the Ellen Deg. Show on Monday. This kid was featured as a guest. When it is all said and done, This MS school who cancelled her prom just turned her into the next multi-millionaire. Some of our tax dollars will also support her if/when she wins her case filed by ACLU. The kid is smart and very attractive. She has excellent command of English with a vocabulary not often heard from this age group.

Author
justjess
Date
2010-03-23T11:40:20-06:00
ID
156899
Comment

Chalk up round 1 to Robbie. http://www2.wjtv.com/jtv/news/local/article/judge_says_no_to_forcing_itawamba_prom/118767/

Author
RobbieR
Date
2010-03-23T14:52:50-06:00
ID
156903
Comment

We're just seeing the fruits of living in the most conservative, most religious, most uneducated state in the union. Sad... Hell, we need healthcare reform more than anyone and our governor doesn't want to accept it?!?!?

Author
DiFatta
Date
2010-03-23T18:56:11-06:00
ID
156919
Comment

Interesting how you grouped in "conservative" and "religious" in the same sentence and tone as "uneducated."

Author
RobbieR
Date
2010-03-25T08:50:31-06:00

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