18-year-old Mississippi lesbian student whose school district canceled her senior prom rather than allow her to escort her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo said she got some unfriendly looks from classmates when she reluctantly returned to campus Thursday.
Constance McMillen said she didn’t want to go back the day after the Itawamba County school board’s decision, but her father told her she needed to face her classmates, teachers and school officials.
“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.”
The district announced Wednesday it wouldn’t host the April 2 prom. The decision came after the American Civil Liberties Union told officials a policy banning same-sex prom dates violated students’ rights. The ACLU said the district not letting McMillen wear a tuxedo violated her free expression rights.
McMillen said she felt some hostility toward her on the Itawamba County Agricultural High School campus.
“Somebody said, ‘Thanks for ruining my senior year.”‘ McMillen said.
The school board issued a statement announcing it wouldn’t host the event in Fulton, “due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events.”
The statement didn’t mention McMillen or the ACLU. When asked by the AP if McMillen’s demand led to the cancellation, school board attorney Michele Floyd said she could only reference the statement.
“I guess they would rather do that than what’s right, what’s constitutionally correct,” McMillen said.
Same-sex prom dates and cross-dressing are new issues for many high schools around the country, said Daryl Presgraves, a spokesman for GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a Washington-based advocacy group.
“A lot of schools actually react rather than do the research and find out what the rights of these students are,” said Presgraves, who was preparing to facilitate a discussion about anti-gay bullying at a National Association of Secondary School Principals meeting.
The school district had said it hoped a privately sponsored prom could be held. McMillen said if that happens, she’s sure she’ll be excluded.
“It’s a small town in Mississippi, and it’s run by an older generation with money. Most of them are more conservative and they don’t agree with it,” she said.
Fulton Mayor Paul Walker said he supports the school district’s decision and knew of no private efforts to host the prom.
“I think the community as a whole is probably in support of the school district,” Walker said of the town of about 4,000.
Itawamba County is a rural area of about 23,000 people in north Mississippi near the Alabama state line. It’s near Pontotoc County, Miss., where more than a decade ago school officials were sued in federal court over their practice of student-led intercom prayer and Bible classes.
A couple of students had different reactions to the decision.
Anna Watson, a 17-year-old junior at the high school, was looking forward to the prom, especially since the town’s only hotspot is the bowling alley, she said.
“I am a little bummed out about it. I guess it’s a decision that had to be made. Either way someone was going to get disappointed – either Constance was or we were,” Watson said. “I don’t agree with homosexuality, but I can’t change what another person thinks or does.”
McKenzie Chaney, 16, said she wasn’t planning to attend the prom, but “it’s kind of ridiculous that they can’t let her wear the tuxedo and it all be over with.”
A Feb. 5 memo to students laid out the criteria for bringing a date to the prom, and one requirement was that the person must be of the opposite sex.
Presgraves said his organization hears about school districts that prohibit same-sex prom dates and gay-straight alliance clubs at schools. He said those kind of policies are detrimental to gay students.
“It sends a message that these students shouldn’t be treated the same,” Presgraves said.