In Search of a Prom

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In Search of a Prom

Postby olywaguy » Tue Mar 23, 2010 9:02 am

As you know, I grew up in Tupelo, MS. Not far from there is the small town of Fulton which has one thing going for them...a community college known as Itawamba Community College (I attended there when it was junior college). Next to the college, is the town's high school of Itawamba Agricultural High School.

Well, they are trying to have a prom. The problem is that when a young lesbian girl tried to get permission to attend with her date...well...all hell broke loose.

Here's the story from Jackson's Clarion-Ledger.

Image
Constance McMillen (center) surrounded by her attorneys and members of the ACLU, meets with the media following a hearing Monday at the federal court building in Aberdeen. (Matthew Sharpe/Special to The Clarion-Ledger)

Judge hears arguments in prom case
Lesbian teen asks court to make school reinstate event


Chris Joyner • chris.joyner@jackson.gannett.com • March 23, 2010

ABERDEEN — Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen who challenged her school's ban on same-sex prom dates, pleaded her case in court Monday, asking a federal judge to intervene and reinstate the dance after the school board called it off.

"I feel like I had the right to go to the prom just like someone straight," McMillen, an 18-year-old lesbian, testified.

On March 10, when presented with a demand from the American Civil Liberties Union to allow McMillen to attend the April 2 prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School with her girlfriend and to be allowed to wear a tuxedo, the Itawamba County School Board opted to call it off. The board instead urged parents to host a private event.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit the next day seeking a reversal of the decision and a ruling on whether McMillen's right to free expression had been violated.

When asked by her attorney what rights she had lost, McMillen responded, "That I am equal to people who are straight."

School officials defended their decision by saying they were trying to rein in distractions caused by the prom and return to their educational mission.

"We want to have school. We are in the business of school and educating our children," school board chairman Eddie Hood said. "We want to move on."

McMillen said she quietly worked her request up the district chain of command, but her requests were denied.

"I went to them hoping that I could talk to them," she said. "I was hoping they would understand how it made me feel."

U.S. District Court Judge Glen Davidson did not indicate when he would rule on the request for an injunction, but acknowledged "time is of the essence in this matter."

In testimony, Itawamba County schools Superintendent Teresa McNeece said McMillen was "very respectful and well spoken" in stating her case, but she said her request was causing trouble at the school nonetheless. McNeece said media members were "hounding" faculty and students on a daily basis, and in-class discussion on the topic threatened student achievement.

Principal Trae Wiygul said he has received about 4,000 e-mails since the school board's decision, 90 percent of which he said supported McMillen.

"I've been called every name known to man," Wiygul said. "I've been called a bigot, a homophobe and a few cuss words. It's been pretty rough."

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.

In cross examination, school officials conceded no classes were canceled before or after the school board decision, and Hood said the school was "operating normally" in his visits prior to the board's decision.

School system attorney Benjamin Griffith disparaged the claim that constitutional liberties are at risk.

"We do not believe there is a constitutional right to hold a school prom," he said. "This is not that kind of case, your honor."

Attorneys for the school board argued the district did not cancel the prom. Instead, they said, the district merely "withdrew sponsorship" of the dance and hoped parents would hold the dance privately.

With the original date approaching, ACLU attorney Kristy Bennett said she thinks there is "slim likelihood" the prom could be held.

If Davidson decides not to force the school board to hold the event, Bennett said, McMillen would be satisfied with a ruling stating the board's actions were unconstitutional, providing legal precedent for future cases.

At least two alternate proms are being planned.

Some parents of students at the school have scheduled a private dance at a furniture market in Tupelo, about 25 miles west of Fulton. 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.

The Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition is organizing a "second chance" prom for gay and straight students around the state using donations sent from supporters around the nation. That prom has been scheduled for May 8, also in Tupelo.

Bennett said the event had been planned prior to the controversy in Fulton.

Carlos

"I just want to suck his tongue out of his mouth !"--JPaul


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