FULTON, MS - The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition today demanded that Itawamba County School District officials reverse their decision to forbid a lesbian student from attending prom with her girlfriend and from wearing a tuxedo to the prom. Constance McMillen, a student at Itawamba Agricultural High School, said that school officials told her that she could not arrive at the prom with her girlfriend, also a student at IAHS, and that they might be thrown out if any other students complained about their presence.
"Prom is one of those high school moments everyone should get to experience and enjoy. I didn't go to prom last year, so this is my only chance to go," said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at the school in Fulton, a small town of about 3,900 in the northeastern corner of Mississippi. "We just want to be able to be ourselves at our own prom."
McMillen said she approached school officials shortly before a memo about prom was circulated at school on February 5 that said same-sex dates would not be allowed, because she knew same-sex dates had been banned from prom in the past. McMillen met with the assistant principal and later the superintendent, who told her that they would not be allowed to arrive together, that she would not be allowed to wear a tuxedo to prom, and that she and her girlfriend might be thrown out if their presence made any other students "uncomfortable" at the April 2 event.
"Prom is supposed to be about all students being able to express themselves, have fun, and make memories that will last the rest of their lives," said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. "Constance has a constitutional right to take the person she's dating to the prom, just like any other student at any other public school."
In today's letter to Itawamba County School District officials, the ACLU cited federal court cases guaranteeing students' First Amendment right to bring same-sex dates to school dances, and also pointed out that treating McMillen and other lesbian, gay, and bisexual students differently from other students violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantees. In addition to illegally barring McMillen and her girlfriend from attending the prom together, the ACLU said that the school further violated McMillen's free expression rights by telling her that she can't wear a tuxedo to the prom.
"We hope that informing the school about its legal obligations towards its students will make it think twice about treating Constance and her girlfriend any differently than it does any other student couple who wants to go to the prom," said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi. "Schools that discriminate against lesbian, gay, and bisexual students who want to bring same-sex dates to school dances need to know that by doing so they're violating established federal law, and we will call them on it."
The ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition have given the school district until March 10, 2010 to respond to their letter.
Additional information, including a copy of the school's prom memo and the ACLU's demand letter, is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination.
The Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition was formed in the fall of 2008 to address discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, or students perceived to be LGBT, in Mississippi public schools and colleges. The MSSC works closely with the ACLU of Mississippi to educate teachers, students, and administrators about the rights of LGBT students with the aim of making schools safer for all. The MSSC is youth-led, and any questions about student rights at prom, starting a gay-straight alliance club, or any other safe schools issues can be directed to Ashley Jackson, facilitator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.