by Dan Savage
on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 12:40 PM
Constance McMillen is in court today asking a judge to force the Itawamba County School Board to un-cancel Itawamba Agricultural High School's prom. Clarian Ledger:
Itawamba County school officials this morning defended in federal court their decision to cancel a high school prom after a lesbian student challenged the district’s policy against same-sex dates.
School board chairman Eddie Hood said the debate over 18-year-old Itawamba County Agricultural High School senior Constance McMillen's request to bring her girlfriend as her date and to wear a tuxedo to the April 2 dance was causing too much of a distraction.
"We want to have school. We are in the business of school and education our children," Hood said. "We want to move on."
Gee, it's almost like you can't discriminate against gay and lesbian students and use segregation-era tactics to violate a lesbian student's civil rights in peace and quiet anymore.
Um... anyone who would like to explain to Mr. Hood why we're not letting them "move on" is welcome to send him an at his work email address. (Mr. Hood conducts public business using his work email address—he's an Allstate insurance agent—so I'm not violating her privacy here. His email address was posted on Itawamba County School Board's website and the public was invited to contact Hood via his work email address with any concerns we might have. So write to Mr. Hood. Then write to Allstate and ask them how many of its agents are currently using Allstate's emails servers to advance bigotry and discrimination: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Back to the CL:
McMillen's attorney repeatedly made the point that any distractions caused by McMillen's request were greatly amplified by the board's decision, which has focused national and international attention on Fulton, McMillen's hometown of about 4,000 people.
By coming down on the Itawamba County School system—and by coming down on them hard—we're not just sending a message to the bigots running a high school in a corner of Mississippi. We're sending a message to school boards and superintendents and principals all over the country: you will pay a price if you discriminate against or encourage other students to retaliate against LGBT youth.
So... suck on that distraction, Mr. Hood, and remember: the school board brought this distraction down on Fulton. Back to the CL:
Some parents of students at the school have scheduled a private dance at a furniture market in Tupelo, about 25 miles west of Fulton. Itawamba County schools Superintendent Teresa McNeece said she believed that dance would be open to any high school junior or senior, but she did not testify about whether same-sex dates would be allowed.
According to Friday's report about the "invitation-only" prom, same-sex dates will not be allowed to attend Itawamba Agricultural's restricted prom. In fact, Constance and the ACLU only learned that a private, restricted prom was being planned when the Itawamba County School District's attorney mentioned it in a filing—a filing that Ms. McNeece, the Superintendent of Itawamba County Schools, had to have helped draft. Presumably Ms. McNeece knew the restricted prom was on, knew it was restricted, and knew Constance and other gay students would be excluded, and yet McNeece took the stand and said she "believed that dance would be open to any high school junior or senior." So McNeece may have lied. In court. To the judge. Under oath.
But they also said they decided to call off the April 2 prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School because McMillen's challenge to the rules had caused disruptions. "We were being hounded every day. Our students were being hounded," McNeece said. "We were having a tough time of any bell-to-bell instruction."
No one in Fulton was being hounded—no one outside of Fulton had ever heard of Fulton (pop. 4,000)—until after the Itawamba County School Board cancelled prom in an attempt to retaliate against a student who wanted to go to her prom with her date. The Itawamba County School Board and Itawamba County's Agricultural's administration mistakenly believed that they could abuse Constance McMillen with impunity and discriminate against her in relative secrecy because who outside of Fulton would ever find out about any of this? (How's that working out for you, Ms. McNeece?) And canceling prom meant putting Constance McMillen—already isolated in Fulton—at risk of emotional and physical violence at the hands of her angry and disappointed peers, well, that kind of hounding Ms. McNeece can get behind.
Closing arguments will be heard this afternoon—they may be underway already—and the judge has indicated that his decision will be quick. In the meantime let's keep making sure that discrimination and bigotry are more distracting for the Itawamba County school system than tolerance and inclusion ever could've been:
Let's keep it respectful, Sloggers, but let's keep it up. And join the Facebook group "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom" if you haven't already. And make a tax-deductible donation to support Constance's ACLU LGBT Project team by clicking here if you haven't already.