by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
A little over a week ago, Constance McMillen was a name only heard in the small town of Fulton, Mississippi. Her name has since become commonplace in households all across the country. The 18-year-old high school student, who identifies as Lesbian, was told by the Itawamba County School District on March 10 that her prom would be cancelled "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events."
According to McMillen, her lawyers, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), her school district elected to cancel the entire senior prom rather than allow a student to attend the prom with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.
"Itawamba school officials are trying to turn Constance into the villain who called the whole [prom] off, and that just isn't what happened. She's fighting for everyone to be able to enjoy the prom," said Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi.
In a lawsuit filed on March 11, the ACLU has demanded that the Itawamba County School District reverse its decision on canceling the prom and allow McMillen and her girlfriend to attend the event. Both girls are students of Itawamba Agricultural High School.
The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, also charges Itawamba County School District officials with violating Constance McMillen's First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
"It's shameful and cowardly of the school district to have canceled the prom and to try to blame Constance, who's only standing up for herself. We will fight tooth and nail for the prom to be reinstated for all students," said Christine Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU National LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi.
The case is entitled Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al.
According to the ACLU, McMillen asked for support from the ACLU after school officials told her that she could not attend the prom with her girlfriend. When the school board received a certified letter from the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (MSSC) demanding that the school allow the couple to attend the prom together, the school board issued a statement saying that they were canceling prom for all students.
The statement released by the school board did not mention McMillen or the ACLU. When asked by an Associated Press reporter if McMillen led to the cancellation of the event, Itawamba County School Board attorney Michele Floyd said she could only reference the statement that the prom was cancelled "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events."
McMillen has gained national celebrity, appearing with Sun on multiple talk shows including the CBS Early Show, MSNBC and The Wanda Sykes Show throughout the week.
Now back in her hometown of Fulton, McMillen is coming under a great degree of scrutiny from her fellow students and other members of the community. However, with the support of her friends, her father, and the rest of her family, she does not fear retaliation.
"My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I'm still proud of who I am," McMillen told the Associated Press last week.
Currently, MSSC is working to host a "Second Chance Prom" for McMillen and every other student of Itawamba Agricultural High School.
"Unfortunately this story is all too familiar in Mississippi," said MSSC in a press release obtained by the SGN. MSSC is currently taking donations to host the Second Chance Prom. Visit www.mssafeschools.org to donate online.
"The MSSC is organizing its Second Chance Prom this year in Constance's community, so that all students, Gay and straight, at Itawamba will have the opportunity to be themselves at the prom," said MSSC.
While in New York City this week, McMillen recorded a short video for the ACLU thanking the nation for its support. McMillen has been overwhelmed by the public backlash against the Itawamba County School District. Currently, the Facebook page "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!" has 353,826 fans.
There will be a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction on Monday, March 22.
"All I wanted was the same chance to enjoy my prom night like any other student. But my school would rather hurt all the students than treat everyone fairly," said McMillen. "This isn't just about me and my rights anymore; now I'm fighting for the right of all the students at my school to have our prom."
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