Court upholds right to attend Prom with a same sex date
Students have a First Amendment right to bring a same-sex date and wear gender non-conforming clothes to the prom, a federal court ruled today. School officials violated Constance McMillen’s rights when they canceled the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend and wear a tux.
“All I ever wanted was for my school to treat me and my girlfriend like any other couple that wants to go to prom,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. “Now we can all get back to things like picking out our prom night outfits and thinking about corsages.”
School officials told McMillen that she could not arrive at the prom with her girlfriend, who is also a student at the school, and that they might be thrown out if any other students complained about their presence. The school board canceled the prom when the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanded that the district reverse its decision.
In the 12-page ruling, the court wrote, “The record shows Constance has been openly gay since eighth grade and she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date. The Court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment. The Court is also of the opinion that the motive behind the School Board’s cancellation of the prom, or withdrawal of their sponsorship, was Constance’s requests and the ACLU’s demand letter sent on her behalf.” Further, the court says that since the school represented the private prom being organized by parents at a furniture store as open to all students, then the court expects that event will indeed invite McMillen and her girlfriend.
McMillen said that she plans to attend the “private” prom, but has also long planned to attend the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition’s Second Chance Prom, to be held Saturday, May 8 in Tupelo. That event, sponsored by Green Day, Tonic.com, Iron Chef Cat Cora, and Lance Bass, among others, will be open to all LGBT students in the state, as well as straight students who are LGBT-supportive. The MSSC and the ACLU deal every year with complaints from LGBT students all over Mississippi who face resistance from their schools about bringing same-sex dates to proms or who don’t feel safe going to their own school proms.
“Today’s ruling isn’t just a win for Constance and her girlfriend – it’s a win for all the students at her school, and for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students who just want to be able to be themselves at school without being treated unfairly,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Public schools can’t just stomp on students’ free expression rights just because they don’t want to deal with these students, and if schools do try to do that they’ll be dealing with us.”
In Alaska, some LGBT students bring same sex dates to their school prom, if they feel comfortable doing that. Many don’t attend prom or bring an opposite sex friend to fit in. But they have the right to bring a same sex date, if they want to.
Alaska also has an alternate prom for LGBT students and their high school allies. The annual Pride Prom is the closing event for Day of Silence/Night of Noise, organized in Anchorage by the Gay-Straight Alliance student clubs.Tags: ACLU, Constance McMillen, Day of Silence, LGBT youth, Mississippi, Pride Prom, prom