Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Fulton, northern Mississippi, was informed by school officials in February that she could not bring her girlfriend, another student, to the prom scheduled for April 2. Nor would she be allowed to wear a tuxedo.
reports that the school then sent out a memo indicating that students attending the prom could only bring members of the opposite sex as their dates.
Ms McMillen contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi
for their help in the matter and in a letter dated March 2
the union advised Itawamba County School District officials that federal courts had guaranteed students the "right to bring same-sex dates to school dances" under the First Amendment
and treating "lesbian, gay, and bisexual students differently from other students violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantees".
Furthermore the ACLU, which is cooperating with the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition
on the matter, gave the school district until March 10 to respond to its letter.
On Wednesday the response to the letter duly came, in the form of an announcement that the prom was canceled.
In a statement which Fox News/Associated Press
notes did not mention Ms McMillen or the ACLU but did refer to "taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of our students" the Itawamba County School District board said:
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. It is our hope that private citizens will organize an event for the juniors and seniors.
We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this causes anyone
According to Fox News
the ACLU has stopped Constance McMillen from commenting on the announcement but the Clarion-Ledger
quotes her as saying when she learned of the school district's latest decision:
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. A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it’s really retaliation
With regard to the district's "hope that private citizens will organize an event for the juniors and seniors" she added:
If they set it up privately they probably aren’t going to allow gay people to go and there is nothing that you can do about it. I’m going to have to change schools or something
In November a situation similar to that confronting Ms McMillen was facing 17-year-old Cynthia Stewart, a junior at Tharptown High School in Franklin County, Alabama.
Despite being a member of her school’s prom planning committee and raising $200 for the prom, Ms Stewart was told she could not bring her girlfriend to the prom and was ordered to remove a sticker saying "I am a lesbian”, which she had been wearing.
Again the threat from the high school at one stage was that the prom would be canceled altogether.
However the ACLU confirms
that eventually the Franklin County School System backed down and allowed Ms Stewart to attend the prom with her girlfriend.