A lesbian student in Mississippi has joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union to compel her high school to reinstate its senior prom, which the school canceled after the student announced she would be bringing a same-sex date.
In a lawsuit (PDF) filed in a federal court in Oxford, Mississippi, Thursday, 18-year-old Constance McMillen asked the courts to compel the school district to reinstate the prom, and argued her First Amendment rights were infringed by both the school's policy against same-sex dates and its refusal to allow her to wear a tuxedo to the prom.
The lawsuit also says canceling the prom was done "for the purpose of suppressing the viewpoint of Constance's constitutionally protected speech."
“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,” McMillen said in a statement. “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.”
On Wednesday, when Itawamba Agricultural High School announced the cancellation, officials said it was "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events." But Christine Sun, an ACLU lawyer representing McMillen, said it was clear that the school had canceled the prom because McMillen had asked to bring a same-sex date to the prom, and to wear a tux to it.
"The ACLU sent a letter on Constance's behalf, and one week later, the school cancelled the prom," Sun said.
Sun said it was "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."
Not surprisingly, the school's decision has made McMillen a target for students angered over the disappearance of their senior prom. The Associated Press reports:
"Somebody said, 'Thanks for ruining my senior year,'" McMillen said of her reluctant return Thursday to Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton....
McMillen said she didn't want to go back to the high school in Fulton the morning after the decision, but her father told her she needed to face her classmates.
"My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I'm still proud of who I am," McMillen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The fact that this will help people later on, that's what's helping me to go on."
And if McMillen fails in her effort to reinstate the prom, her class will at least have other options. AP reports that hotel owner Sean Cummings has offered to host the prom at his New Orleans hotel.
"New Orleans, we're a joyful culture and a creative culture here and, if the school doesn't change its mind, we'd be delighted to offer them a prom in New Orleans," he said, as quoted at AP. "Concluding your high school experience should be a joyful one. One shouldn't conclude that experience with all their friends on a negative note."