Constance McMillen : ACLU fights to keep her Prom

Tuxedo

Constance McMillen wanted to wear a tuxedo to her prom. Image from Flickr.

Prom may or may not carry the best memories for everyone, but it is a tradition for most high school students – getting fast cash loans so they can dress up and have a good night. The ACLU has been offering help to high school senior Constance McMillen, who is now fighting to have her high school reinstate their canceled prom. The school board of Itawamba Agricultural High School announced recently that it would be canceling Prom rather than defend their decision to not allow Constance McMillen to bring her girlfriend to the dance.

Constance McMillen just wanted to go to Prom

Itawamba High School, where Constance McMillen is a senior informed her earlier this year that she would not be allowed to both bring her sophomore girlfriend to the dance and to wear a tuxedo, as she had planned. Constance McMillen then contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, who sent a letter to the district asking that they change their policy. The school then circulated a memo to students, including Constance McMillen, specifically prohibiting same-sex couples at the school dance.

Itawamba high school cancels Prom because of Constance McMillen’s involvement

In the statement recently released, the school board indicated that “Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year.” Later in the statement, as reported by the Clarion-Ledger, they “encouraged the community to organize a private prom.” No organization has yet stepped up and offered to take on the short term loan of students in formal wear for an evening.

Constance McMillen’s reaction to the cancellation

In her interview with USA Today, Constance McMillen reacted to the announcement: “Oh, my God. That’s really messed up because the message they are sending is that if they have to let gay people go to prom that they are not going to have one,” she said. “A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this.” Constance also pointed out that “If they set it up privately they probably aren’t going to allow gay people to go and there is nothing that you can do about it.”

The constitutional concerns of Constance McMillen’s situation

In a prepared statement, Constance McMillen outlined the concerns she has about the school board’s decision. “All I want is 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. This isn’t just about me and my rights anymore — now I’m fighting for the opportunity of all the students at my school to have our prom.” The ACLU is framing this debate as a constitutional issue of free speech. They argue that as a publicly funded institution, Itawamba Agricultural High School cannot ban Constance McMillen from attending prom based on her choice of date or clothing choices. They also argue that equal protection prohibits publicly funded schools from banning gay students from school activities. The school is defending itself by claiming that Constance McMillen and her girlfriend attending prom would create distractions that would damage education in the school.

How have situations like Constance McMillen’s been decided in the past?

High schools across the nation have a patchwork of policies about gay students and school activities. As USA Today reported, some schools do allow same-sex dates while others continue to ban homosexual couples. There are also some schools, that have bans but do not enforce them. Schools are allowed very wide latitude by most courts in determining the eligibility and limitations on school events, clubs, and activities.

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