2010 Itawamba County School District prom controversy

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18-year-old Caucasoid female with a left-nostril piercing and the letters "NO H8" painted on her left cheek is wearing a white shirt and black coat and standing in front of a banner advertising the "GLAAD awards" and "Absolut Vodka".
Constance McMillen at the 2010 GLAAD Media Awards

The 2010 Itawamba County School District prom controversy took place in Itawamba County, Mississippi, and began when lesbian student Constance McMillen was refused permission to take her girlfriend to the Itawamba County Agricultural High School prom. As a result of a lawsuit brought against the school, the school canceled the prom and encouraged parents to organize a private prom. The parents organized a private prom, but canceled it. A second private prom was organized and represented to be the official prom. Meanwhile, parents organized a secret prom to which McMillen was not invited and which most of the student body attended. The school district settled the lawsuit by agreeing to a payment to McMillen and adoption of a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy.[1]

Incident[edit]

In March 2010, the Itawamba County School District board made international news after it decided to cancel the prom for Itawamba Agricultural High School because 18-year-old lesbian student Constance McMillen had requested permission to take a same-sex date to the event, and to wear a tuxedo.[2][3][4][5][6] The school board encouraged the creation of a private prom.[2] McMillen called the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which threatened the school with legal action. On March 10, 2010, the ACLU filed a free speech lawsuit on McMillen's behalf, seeking an injunction which would reinstate the prom. The ACLU stated that it was "shameful and cowardly of the school district to have canceled the prom and to try to blame [the student]".[7][8] On April 21, 2010, an amended complaint was filed, seeking compensatory damages.[9][10][11] A court hearing was scheduled to take place on Monday, March 22, 2010.

On a March 12, 2010 appearance on the national CBS Early Show, McMillen said that she had first asked the school principal about bringing a same-sex date to the prom in December 2009, and that he said it was not allowed, due to a concern that pairs of same-sex friends who were not in a relationship would buy less expensive couples tickets instead of individual tickets.[12] McMillen said she told him "you can't pretend like there's not gay people at our school, and if you tell people they can't bring a same-sex date, that is discrimination to them." Although the school board did not explicitly say the prom was cancelled due to McMillen's request, the cancellation came only one week after the ACLU sent a letter to the board pleading her case.[12]

Subsequent to international press coverage of the prom's cancellation, many groups offered to sponsor a non-discriminatory prom and enough money was reportedly raised to host one.[13] However, it was reported that adults posted signs in protest on the high school, including ones stating "What happened to the Bible Belt?", and "Gomorrah".[13]

Court ruling[edit]

On March 23, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Glen H. Davidson issued a ruling partly in favor of McMillen and partly favorable to the Itawamba County School District.[14] Judge Davidson ruled that Itawamba County School District did violate McMillen's First Amendment rights by not allowing her to attend the prom with her girlfriend, not allowing her to wear a tuxedo and cancelling the prom.[14] Judge Davidson wrote, "The court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment."[14] However, in favor of the Itawamba County School District, Judge Davidson ruled that he would not force the school district to hold the prom since a private prom had already been planned.[14] At the preliminary hearing, school board members testified that all junior and senior students would be allowed to attend the private prom but did not make it clear as to whether or not same-sex couples would be allowed to attend.[14] McMillen received no official information on, or an invitation to, the private prom.[15]

During the hearing, the school board testified that they cancelled the prom because the "media attention generated distracted the school from its educational mission, and that the board cancelled the prom in an attempt to restore order".[14] Judge Davidson said he was not swayed by that testimony because the high school's own principal had testified to the opposite, saying that "e-mail and phone calls generated by the controversy had no impact on classroom instruction".[14]

On July 20, 2010, the school district settled the case out of court by paying McMillen $35,000, paying her attorneys' fees, and agreeing to create a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation.[16]

Private prom[edit]

On March 30, 2010, The Clarion-Ledger newspaper reported that the original private prom scheduled to be held at the Tupelo Furniture Market had been cancelled after McMillen attempted to purchase a ticket.[17] Lori Byrd, who served on the parent organizing committee of the private prom, told the newspaper that there were many parents involved who did not want to be sued for not allowing same-sex dates at the private prom, so they cancelled it.[17] However, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported the following day that a new private prom had been organized, to be held at the Fulton Country Club, and that McMillen would be allowed to attend with her girlfriend.[18]

McMillen and her date attended the prom, but found only five other students in attendance including two students "with learning difficulties".[19] A second secret private prom had been arranged by parents, to be held in the community of Evergreen, and the rest of the students chose to attend that prom instead of the Fulton Country Club prom.[19][20][21] McMillen said she was aware of the "Evergreen" event but when she asked another student if she was invited, the student told her, "the prom is at the country club." McMillen said she took that answer as a "no" in regards to her question on whether or not she was invited and details about the secret private prom were kept from her.[20]

Students who attended the "Evergreen" prom posted photos of the event on their Facebook pages, but many of the photos were deleted after they became public. Some students said the event was not a prom but was instead a birthday party, while others said it was just a private party. However, while claiming the event was not a prom publicly, students uploaded photos from the event to their Facebook pages labeled as "Prom 2010" and posted status updates which referred to the gathering as "prom".[22][23][24][25]

McMillen subsequently transferred out of the Itawamba high school and into Murrah High School in Jackson, Mississippi, saying she was harassed by other students blaming her for the prom controversy.[16]

Media and celebrity attention[edit]

The controversy brought about world wide media attention as well as attention from celebrities.[26]

Popular sex and relationship advice columnist and podcaster, Dan Savage, exhorted his followers to contact the principal and superintendent of the school to protest the decision, at the time.[27]

Ellen DeGeneres invited McMillen to be a guest on her television show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. On the show, DeGeneres presented McMillen with a $30,000 scholarship, paid for and donated by Tonic.com.[28]

McMillen was also invited to be a guest by Wanda Sykes on her television show, The Wanda Sykes Show. On the show, Sykes noted that she was receiving the Stephen F. Kolzack Award at the 2010 GLAAD Media Awards and that award recipients, such as her, could decide whom they wanted to present their award. Sykes said that she would like McMillen to come to Los Angeles, at Sykes's expense, and be the person who presented the award to her.[29]

Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton invited, and she accepted, McMillen and guests of her choosing to attend at his expense a birthday bash being held for him. When he posted about it on his web site, he wrote that "she will be treated like a homecoming queen for the day."[30]

Along with activists Judy Shepard and Lt. Daniel Choi, McMillen was chosen as a Grand Marshall of the 2010 New York City Gay Pride March.[31]

The television series Drop Dead Diva based a season 3 episode on the incident (Prom, aired July 24, 2011). Wanda Sykes plays the judge, Amanda Bearse another judge, and McMillen has a cameo role as a bailiff.

See also[edit]


References[edit]

  1. ^ CNN Wire Staff (July 20, 2010). "Mississippi school pays damages to lesbian teen over prom dispute". Atlanta, Georgia, US: Turner Broadcasting System. CNN. Archived from the original on February 27, 2011. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Joyner, Chris (March 11, 2010). "Miss. prom canceled after lesbian's date request". USA Today (McLean, Virginia, US: Gannett Company). ISSN 0734-7456. Archived from the original on April 4, 2010. Retrieved May 31, 2010. 
  3. ^ Sheila Byrd (Associated Press) (March 11, 2010). "Lesbian teen back at Miss. school after prom flap". Yahoo! News. Archived from the original on March 13, 2010. Retrieved March 11, 2010. [dead link]
  4. ^ Meghan Housley (March 11, 2010). "Mississippi school board cancels prom over lesbian and her date". National Post (Canada). Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Radio interview with Constance McMillan". KGO (AM). March 11, 2010. Archived from the original on April 2, 2010. Retrieved March 11, 2010. 
  6. ^ David Gardner (March 13, 2010). "School cancels prom after lesbian pupil asks to take her girlfriend... and wear a dinner suit". Daily Mail (UK). Archived from the original on April 14, 2010. Retrieved March 13, 2010. 
  7. ^ Chris Joyner (March 11, 2010). "ACLU files suit against Miss. school for canceling prom". USA Today. Retrieved March 11, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  8. ^ Constance McMillen (March 10, 2010). "Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District". ACLU. Archived from the original on April 25, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  9. ^ Constance McMillen (April 21, 2010). "Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District". ACLU. Archived from the original on April 25, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  10. ^ Constance McMillen. "Fulton, MS Prom Discrimination". ACLU. Archived from the original on May 1, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ "Lesbian teenager files lawsuit against school district". WLBT. Raycom Media. April 22, 2010. Archived from the original on April 26, 2010. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  12. ^ a b "Lesbian Teen Speaks Out on Cancelled Prom". The Early Show. March 12, 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2010. 
  13. ^ a b Chris Joyner (March 15, 2010). "Itawamba prom hearing could be held by Monday". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved March 17, 2010. [dead link] Archived at WebCite
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Chris Joyner (March 24, 2010). "Both sides claim win in lesbian's prom lawsuit". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved March 24, 2010. [dead link] Archived at WebCite
  15. ^ CNN Wire Staff (March 23, 2010). "Judge: School violated lesbian's rights, but prom cancellation valid". CNN. Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. Retrieved March 24, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  16. ^ a b Joyner, Chris (July 20, 2010). "Miss. school district settles lesbian prom-date case". USA Today. Retrieved February 19, 2012. 
  17. ^ a b Chris Joyner (March 30, 2010). "Parent-sponsored prom in Itawamba canceled". The Clarion-Ledger. Retrieved April 1, 2010. [dead link] Archived at WebCite
  18. ^ Chris Kieffer and Alisha Wilson (March 31, 2010). "Itawamba prom off, then on again". Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Archived from the original on April 3, 2010. Retrieved April 1, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  19. ^ a b Unknown (April 5, 2010). "McMillen: I Was Sent to Fake Prom". The Advocate. Archived from the original on April 7, 2010. Retrieved April 5, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  20. ^ a b Chris Kieffer (April 5, 2010). "UPDATE: McMillen goes to Itawamba County prom that is sparsely attended". Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Archived from the original on April 12, 2010. Retrieved April 5, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  21. ^ Jake Simpson (April 6, 2010). "Lesbian Couple Sent to Fake Prom". The Atlantic Wire. Archived from the original on April 9, 2010. Retrieved April 11, 2010. 
  22. ^ Kim LaCapria. "Followup: Constance McMillen’s classmates confirm prom ruse, the fact that they’re bigoted". The Inquisitr. Archived from the original on April 11, 2010. Retrieved April 7, 2010. 
  23. ^ QMI Agency (April 7, 2010). "Students send lesbian to decoy prom". Toronto Sun. Retrieved April 12, 2010. 
  24. ^ Editorial board (April 7, 2010). "Mississippi outrage: 'Fake proms' for lesbians". The Week Magazine. Archived from the original on April 12, 2010. Retrieved April 12, 2010. 
  25. ^ Carlin DeGuerin Miller (April 7, 2010). "Constance McMillen faces Facebook Backlash as her Classmates Ridicule her Online". CBS News. Archived from the original on April 11, 2010. Retrieved April 12, 2010. 
  26. ^ Advocate.com Editors (March 23, 2010). "School Wrong, But Prom Won't Go On". The Advocate. Archived from the original on March 26, 2010. Retrieved April 7, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  27. ^ "Savage Lovecast episode 178". March 15, 2010. Retrieved July 31, 2013. 
  28. ^ Associated Press (March 19, 2010). "Ellen presents $30K to lesbian teen in prom flap". USA Today. Retrieved April 7, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  29. ^ Advocate.com Editors (March 14, 2010). "Sykes Interviews Lesbian Barred From Prom". The Advocate. Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved April 7, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  30. ^ Advocate.com Editors (March 16, 2010). "Constance to Party With Perez". The Advocate. Archived from the original on March 23, 2010. Retrieved April 7, 2010.  Archived at WebCite
  31. ^ QMI Agency (April 15, 2010). "Gay teen banned from prom to lead NYC pride parade". Toronto Sun. Retrieved April 22, 2010. 

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