When I was in high school, I did not take my girlfriend to prom. It didn’t even seem remotely possible. Instead I took a boy, who turned out to be gay. And my girlfriend took a boy, who turned out to be gay. And my twin sister who also had a girlfriend at the time took a boy, who also turned out to be gay.
My point is that maybe if my sister and I had felt welcome to bring our girlfriends to prom, we wouldn’t have made all of those boys into homos. But we did it. For revenge.
That was 14 years ago. And though I wish gay and lesbian students had an easier time today bringing their boyfriends and girlfriends to prom, that’s sadly not the case in many places.
Case in point: Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., which has chosen to cancel prom entirely rather than let IAHS student Constance McMillen bring her girlfriend to prom.
The school told 18-year-old McMillen it won’t let same-sex couples buy the less-expensive date tickets because they don’t want students without dates to pair up to save a few bucks. This is a lame justification, not just because the policy discriminates against gay prom-goers, but also because it’s really shitty to say to people who don’t have a date, “Oh, we’re going to charge you more so we can pay the janitor who has to mop up your tears from the gym floor.”
But when it turned out that McMillen wasn’t allowed to bring her girlfriend at all, or wear a tux for that matter, McMillen didn’t just sigh and take a soon-to-be-gay boy instead. No. McMillen called the ACLU. And they filed suit, saying that district officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
Which is when the district canceled prom. Because adults are in charge and that is a totally grown-up thing to do.
McMillen called bullshit. “A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it’s really retaliation,” she said.
McMillen’s case has garnered national attention. She’s been all over TV, including on “The Joy Behar Show,” “The Early Show” and “The Wanda Sykes Show.” The Facebook page “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom!” is rapidly approaching 300,000 fans. So much for the school district’s claim that they canceled prom because of “distractions to the educational process.” They apparently had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they went up against an out and proud 18-year-old.
The case has far-reaching implications. “This is about vulnerable LGBT high-school and middle-school students all over the country,” Dan Savage posted on The Stranger’s blog. “By coming down on the Itawamba County School system … 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.’”
I hope McMillen and her girlfriend get to go to prom together. And I hope the ACLU kicks the Itawamba County School Board’s ass in court.
D’Anne Witkowski has been gay for pay since 2003. She’s a freelance writer and poet (believe it!). When she’s not taking on the creeps of the world, she reviews rock ’n’ roll shows in Detroit with her twin sister.