US school cancels prom over lesbian student’s date

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A Mississippi school has cancelled its prom rather than allow a lesbian student to wear a tuxedo and arrive with her date.

Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old student at Itawamba Agricultural High School, was told she could attend the event with her girlfriend, also a student at the school.

When Ms McMillen challenged the decision through the American Civil Liberties Union, the school cancelled the prom and told students they should organise their own private event.

She was told last month she could not arrive with her girlfriend or wear a tuxedo to the April 2nd prom, a decision which the ACLU said violated her constitutional rights. Ms McMillen was also told that if she danced with her girlfriend, the couple would be thrown out.

In a letter sent to students this week, school board officials wrote: “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.”

The letter, which did not mention Ms McMillen or the ACLU, added: “It is our hope that private citizens will organise an event for the juniors and seniors. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this causes anyone.”

Ms McMillen told the Clarion-Ledger: “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.

“A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this.”

She added: “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. I’m going to have to change schools or something.”

Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi, said: “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.

“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.”

The ACLU generally deals with several cases of prom discrimination every year.

In 2009, Alabama student Cynthia Stewart won her battle against Tharptown High School to bring her girlfriend to prom. The school initially decided to cancel its event but relented after Ms Stewart’s case received media attention.