Lesbian Student, ACLU Steps on School's Toes Over Dance Issue

Filed under: In The News

All Constance McMillen wants is a night to remember. Photo courtesy of Constance McMillen.

Constance McMillen, like a lot of 18-year-old high school girls, is excited about going to the prom.

There's only one problem. She wants to take her girlfriend. And Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., (a town of about 3,900 residents in the northeast corner of the state), has a policy against same-sex prom dates.

Enter the American Civil Liberties Union.

Leaders of the ACLU's Mississippi chapter and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanded March 9 that Itawamba County School District officials let McMillen take her girlfriend to the dance.

In an ACLU press release, McMillen says she approached school officials shortly before a memo about prom was circulated at school Feb. 5, stating that same-sex dates would not be allowed.

McMillen reports meeting with the assistant principal and, later, the superintendent, who told her she and her girlfriend [a fellow student at Itawamba] would not be allowed to arrive together and that she would not be allowed to wear a tux.

No matter how they arrive to the dance, McMillen adds, she was told the pair would be thrown out if their presence made any other students "uncomfortable."

"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," says Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, in the release.

"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," she adds.

A letter from the ACLU to Itawamba County School District officials cites federal court cases guaranteeing students' First Amendment right to bring same-sex dates to school dances.

The letter also argues that treating gay and lesbian students differently from other students violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantees.

Aside from barring McMillen and her girlfriend from the prom, ACLU officials argue their school also violated McMillen's free expression rights by telling her that she can't wear a tux.

"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," says Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU national Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, in the press release.

"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," she adds.

The ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition have given the school district a deadline this week to respond to the letter.

Related: Lesbian Teen Banned From Yearbook

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.