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Lesbian Couple Causes School to Cancel Prom: Superintendent Teresa McNeece Awarded Asshole of the Week Award

March 24, 2010

When one lesbian couple wanted to attend prom together, a Mississippi school closed down the school prom rather than allowing the girls to attend:

The prom’s still off at a Mississippi high schoolthat canceled it instead of letting a lesbian student bring her girlfriend, but a federal judge ruled Tuesday that the district’s actions did violate the teen’s constitutional rights.

Although this issue has been found to violate the students’ rights to express themselves, as protected by our federal constitution, the school still refuses to hold a school-sponsored prom and has opted to hold a “private prom,” under the auspices of controlling who may attend and how.  This is rather a faulty proposition because even if an event bears the “private” label but is really used as a substitute for the public school event, it is unlikely that a court would find that simply calling an event private means that the school wasn’t involved in sponsoring the event.  And, since when can a public school sponsor a private event anyway?

Yahoo has published the article that I am quoting, stating that parents are planning to sponsor a private prom, which while planned by parents, if it’s used as a substitute for the school prom, might still constitute a school-based activity.  While the ACLU has said the judge’s ruling is a victory for civil rights, the teenaged couple has taken the hate for this civil rights battle while still in high school:

U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson refused the American Civil Liberties Union’s demand to force the Itawamba County school districtto put on the April 2 prom. However, he said canceling it did violate 18-year-old Constance McMillen’s rights and that he would hold a trial on the issue.

That would come too late for the prom to be salvaged at Itawamba Agricultural High School. Still, Kristy Bennett, ACLU Mississippi legal director, called the decision a victory.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the district to force it to put on the prom and allow McMillen to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. School officials said in U.S. District Court this week that they decided to cancel it because McMillen’s challenge to the rules had caused disruptions.

The judge noted that McMillen has been openly gay since she was in the eighth grade and that she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and escorting a same-sex date.

“The court finds this expression and communication falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment,” Davidson said.

As for McMillen, she said she was happy about the ruling but doesn’t know what to expect when she returns to school. She attended classes a day after the March 10 decision to cancel the prom. But she said the hostility and comments from other students led her to miss school. She skipped class on Tuesday to go to the doctor and the fight is taking a toll, she said.

“My nerves are shot,” she said.

Even the judge, Davidson, has said that the private prom will stand in for the one the school decided to cancel.  But does that mean that the rules of our public schools still apply, that discrimination can not be promulgated based on sexual orientation?

Davidson said a private prom parents are planning will serve the same purpose as a school-sponsored one. He wrote that “requiring defendants to step back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue.”

McMillen isn’t sure if she’ll go to the dance.

“I’m going to school tomorrow (Wednesday) and will get a feel of how everybody feels about me. That will help me make my decision about whether I’m going to the private prom,” McMillen said. “I want to go because all my junior and senior class will be there, but I don’t want to be somewhere I’m not welcomed.”

Ben Griffith, the school district’s attorney, said his clients were pleased with the ruling.

“What we’re looking at now is the fact that the case is still on the docket for a trial on the merits,” Griffith said.

McMillen first approached school officials about bringing her girlfriend in December, and again in February. Same-sex prom dates had been banned in the past, but she had hoped school officials would grant her request.

“I thought maybe the policy had been in place for a different reason,” McMillen testified at a hearing on the ACLU lawsuit. “I wanted to let them know how it made me feel. I felt like I couldn’t go to the prom.”

She was told two girls couldn’t attend together and she wouldn’t be allowed to wear a tuxedo, court documents show. The ACLU issued a demand letter earlier this month and the district responded by canceling the event. McMillen, who lives with her grandmother and has a 3.8 grade point average, has kept her 16-year-old girlfriend out of the spotlight at the request of the girl’s parents.

So what was the district’s main reasoning for a cancel vote?  Safety.  Yep, you heard that right, straight from Mississippi, People, let’s keep our kids “safe” from a teenaged lesbian couple at the school prom:

District officials said they felt not hosting the prom was the best decision “after taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of our students.” Superintendent Teresa McNeece said it was “a no-win situation.”

I take issue with Judge Davidson’s ruling that making the school district sponsor prom, and therefore fail to show discrimination in a public institution would “confuse the community” (God forbid we confuse a small Mississippi community whose response to sexual orientation differences is to publicly, at an institutional level, shun two teenagers!) and let the school district off without penalty.  Superintendent Teresa McNeece gets the Asshole of the Week Award for stupidly using the idea of “education and safety of the students” as an excuse for inciting a district-wide discriminatory practice of a public school institution against two teenagers, and she is joined by the weak-kneed judge Davidson who failed to appropriately hold the school district responsible for publicly shunning two teenagers when administrators managed to incite public school-wide discrimination and threats against the lesbian couple. The only people who are in the “no-win” situation that the superintendent supposedly finds herself in are the two teenagers who still won’t be able to attend prom.

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