I recently saw prom as proms should be. The "Second Chance Prom," as it's called, is an annual project of the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition. As the ACLU of Mississippi's Public Education Coordinator, I was there staffing a table loaded with information about the ACLU-MS and the work we do protecting students' rights.
I've tabled many events for the ACLU-MS, however I understood this event was special as soon as I saw the students enter the auditorium. The kids attending the prom were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or straight allies from across Mississippi. Some were with same-sex dates, others were with friends. All looked excited and nervous, just like so many kids this time of year. But this prom was was special. It was was the prom where students could take their real dates without fear of bullying and discrimination. As the name implies, this was their second chance prom. A second chance to enjoy the kind of prom everyone should have but are too often denied because of bullying or school-sponsored discrimination.
For a school to permit or create a hostile environment for LGBT students is actually unconstitutional, and the ACLU-MS is eager to challenge bullying and discrimination whenever it's brought to our attention. We did some impressive work this year with Ceara Sturgis, Constance McMillen and others. But sometimes kids don't know even know that they have the right to take their same-sex dates to prom, so they don't know to contact the ACLU when those rights are violated.
To help teach students about their right to be free from bullying and other discrimination, we had a well-stocked ACLU-MS information table at the prom. It was covered with literature, stickers and other schwag designed to teach young people about their rights. Lots of info was taken from the table, which will be read by young people, parents and teachers, who will hopefully be talking about these rights over the coming year. And when prom comes around in 2011... who knows? Maybe more school proms will resemble the Second Chance Prom. Students will take their real dates, and they'll enjoy a night not only about corsages and rented tuxes, but about a more important step into an adult world where equality is expected.