CNN-Walking into school Wednesday morning was not easy for Constance
McMillen. The last time she'd been there was March 11, the day after her Fulton,
Mississippi, high school canceled prom rather than allow her to wear a tuxedo
and attend with her girlfriend.
"I've been very nervous about all of
this," the 18-year-old Itawamba Agricultural High School senior said. "I don't
like being somewhere where everyone hates me."
McMillen's name made national headlines when she, with the help of the
American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against her school and the Itawamba
County School District, asking them to reinstate prom for everyone, without
discrimination. A federal judge in Mississippi ruled Tuesday that while
he wouldn't force the school to have a prom, which had originally been scheduled
for April 2, he agreed that McMillen's First Amendment rights had been
That was good news, said her attorney, Christine Sun, senior counsel
with the ACLU's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender project. It set a
precedent and helped broadcast an important statement, which was made stronger
by virtue of where it came from, she said.
"We're in a conservative area of the country, where people tend to
think we can do what we like," said Sun, who lives in New York but has traveled
multiple times to Mississippi for this legal push. "This case sends a strong
message that that's not going to fly anymore."
The only pending issue, Sun said, is the question of damages and the
ACLU's request for attorneys' fees. An amended complaint to seek a quick
resolution on this should be filed in the next 30 days, she said.
Meantime, McMillen is trying to find her new normal.
In many ways, she stands in an awkward balance. Though there are some
people who support her in Fulton (population about 4,000), the overarching
tension and what she described as "hostility" that she feels at school and in
her community is in deep contrast to the reception and groundswell of support
that's overwhelmed her nationally.
As a poster child for the rights of LGBT students, she's been asked to
jump on airplanes to appear on news programs and talk shows. The Facebook fan
page "Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!" had attracted more than
414,000 fans as of Friday morning. Wealthy individuals, including Ellen
DeGeneres, have offered to pay for a prom for her school. She's received a
$30,000 college scholarship from an anonymous donor and Tonic.com, a digital media company
in New York that's also offered her a summer internship. She's even been invited
to high school proms in cities she's never visited.
"It means a lot to me," she said of the outreach from others. "The
amount of support helps me to continue with the fight."
But all McMillen, who came out as a lesbian in eighth grade, ever
wanted was to go to her school prom with her class, and with her girlfriend.
Going to another school's prom, while a nice offer, doesn't make any sense to
She never meant to be a spoiler for others when she sought approval
to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, she said. She thought she was doing
the right thing by asking in advance, since the school had stipulated in a
February memo that dates must be of the opposite sex. Rather than give
her permission, the school canceled the prom...
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I have to say a few things. First, what the school did was, and still is, reprehensible. But further, I have to say I disagree with the judge. He said he wouldn't force the school to have a prom.
Public schools are part of the US government, and are publicly owned. Discrimination has no place in the government, much less in the United States of America.
The judge should force the school to have the prom anyway, and pass his judgement that anyone caught doing this in the future will be fired.
This isn't allowed anywhere else, except for the military, and even that will be over soon enough.
Discrimination has no place in the United States. None whatsoever. This wasn't a private school. This is a publicly, tax funded school, and therefore an extension of the public. Therefore, this behavior is not to be tolerated. Not even in backwater places like Mississippi. Being behind the times should not be an excuse.