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ACLU sues Mississippi school that canceled prom rather than let lesbian couple attend

News release today from the ACLU:

OXFORD, MS – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against a Mississippi High School that has canceled prom rather than let a lesbian high school student attend the prom with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo to the event.  In papers filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students at the school and charges Itawamba County School District officials are violating Constance McMillen’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

“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, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi.  “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.”

Today’s filing comes after Itawamba County School District issued a statement yesterday saying they were canceling prom, following a letter from the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanding that they reverse their decision. McMillen said that before that happened,  school officials had 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 at the April 2 event.

“Itawamba school officials are trying to turn Constance into the villain who called the whole thing 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.  “The government, and that includes public schools, can’t censor someone’s free expression just because some other person might not like it.”

In today’s legal complaint, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students and charges that the First Amendment guarantees students’ right to bring same-sex dates to school dances and cites cases holding that other parties’ objections don’t justify censorship. The ACLU also said that the school further violates McMillen’s free expression rights by telling her that she can’t wear a tuxedo to the prom.

“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 P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi. 

The ACLU will ask the court in the next few days to grant McMillen a preliminary injunction ordering the school to reinstate the April 2 prom, let McMillen and her girlfriend go to the prom together, and let McMillen wear a tuxedo to the event.

McMillen is represented by Bennett and Sun, as well as by Norman C. Simon and Joshua Glick of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al.  Also named as defendants are Superintendent Teresa McNeece and Itawamba Agricultural High School Principal Trae Wiygul and Vice Principal Rick Mitchell.  Additional information, including a copy of today’s legal complaint, is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination.  There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom,” at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.

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Dear Sir, I live in beautiful and free New Zealand and was just shocked to read the BBC World article about the cancelled prom at Itawamba because a girl showed her love to another girl. I have sent the following email to the Superintendent of the Board and although I do not know if it would be a good idea to do but I will try to get this email as a form of support for the girl in a local newspaper.

tmcneece@itawamba.k12.ms.us. is the email address of the Board Member addressed below.

Hi there,
I just read the article on BBC World about the exclusion from your local School Prom of one of your fine students because she loves a woman.
What can be more beautiful than sharing love for one another? Those are the basics building blocks of every religion. Then people come in and turn it all around? If one doubts the existence of the amazing simpleness of love then one should ask oneself what gives me the right to punish someone for showing and sharing the love they belief in. How sad it is to do such thing in 2010! That such thing still can happen in this violent world is so alien to me! How do you sleep? Or maybe I should better ask: Don't you want to wake up?

Love2all

Kurt Caumette
New Zealand

Kind regards,
Kurt Caumette
new Zealand

When I was in high scool in the 60's, it was not
uncommon for girls without male escorts, to go to the prom by themselves, or with another girl. In our school, in a small, IOWA, town, no one ever said a word about it. Why was this ever brought up, in the first place? You teach the students, yet not let them come to a dance? If nothing had been said in the first place, there would have been no problem. No, I am NOT, "gay." That word was used when we were happy. We can't even use some words anymore, like they were intended to be.

In response to Judy Wheeler, I can remember as a youngster coming home from school, turning on the TV at 4 p.m. and watching an HOUR of American Bandstand with Dick Clark, and EVERY day you would see girls dancing with other girls on national television! Not just one pair of girls but 8 or 10 pair! Good grief! Were ALL those girls dancing with each other lesbians? If you went to a local dance in town, sponsored by a local radio station, you would see the same scenario, and PARENTS WOULD BE ATTENDING. I never ONCE saw any parent say to their daughter, "Stop dancing with her!"

I recently retired from a teaching career of 30 years in high school in the U.S. where I was required to attend and help monitor the Senior Prom. Teens are NOT concerned about someone they probably already know is gay coming to their senior prom. They are there to have a GOOD TIME, and enjoy one of the highlights of their high school experience. I would bet my last dollar that if this so-called "requirement" had not even been mentioned, the prom would have gone on flawlessly, everyone would have had a good time, and if there was any mention of two attendants of the same sex dancing together, the prom kids would have expressed any concerns behind the whole faculty's backs with hardly any dissatisfaction! In other words, they could CARE LESS who is, and who isn't, gay!

This entire episode shows once again to other nations around the world how bigoted America truly is when it comes to freedom of expression. How can we be accepted to interfere with other nation's problems when we here allow this kind of repression to continue to go on? When is this idiotic polictical madness we force on our young people going to STOP!?

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