Before the “Fake Prom” Mississippi School Discriminated Against Juin Baize
April 15, 2010
The following post comes from HRC's Associate Director of Youth and Campus Outreach, Candace Gingrich-Jones: Unless you’re still hibernating somewhere, you have probably seen the story of Itawamba Agricultural High School student Constance McMillen and the prom-related ‘fun’ she has been enjoying over the past few months. What many folks aren’t aware of is that this isn’t the first time that intolerance and injustice against an LGBT student has happened at this school. Earlier this year, Juin Baize was suspended for wearing clothing that the principal deemed “a distraction.” Juin called HRC last week to tell his story and I had the chance to talk with him a few days ago. Juin, who identifies as queer, spoke to me from his current home in Florida’s panhandle. Juin is a strong, resilient teen who has a good sense of humor and maybe most importantly – the support of family (not unlike his former classmate Constance). I asked about that first day at Itawamba:
"It was only a half-day of school, but I was wearing my heels, skinny jeans and some make-up and no one said a thing to me.
This made Juin hopeful because in the past, every time he liked a school he got kicked out or run off. Juin happened to be sick the next two days of school but showed up the third, ready for his second day at the new school. But Juin didn’t even make it inside as the Principal met him in front of the school and told him to go home.
"The principal told me that ‘they’ had held a special meeting about me and determined that I was violating the school dress code though exactly how was not explained to me.
He was given a suspension and turned around to head for home. The suspension was for a minimum of 3 days but Juin would not be deterred and decided to go to school the next day regardless of whether he’d be welcome. On his approach up the hill to the school building he was met with a surprise. “There were a bunch of girls dressed up as boys and they walked up the hill with me,” said Juin. One of those girls just happened to be Constance McMillen.
"We were met at the front doors by the principal again and I was told to go home. Constance asked the principal why I was being sent home for being dressed like a girl, but she and the others who were dressed like boys could stay. It wasn’t fair and she called him on it. But he just said he was following orders and told me again to go home or he’d call the cops. So I said you better call the cops cause I’m gonna stay here and protest. About a dozen of the girls who had been dressed like boys refused to leave, too- but they were given the option of going home and changing or going to class- how is that fair? I kept asking Principal Wiygul to tell me what dress code I was breaking and he said I was trying to push buttons. He repeated that I was a distraction to the other students and then claimed he feared for my safety.
Juin eventually went home that day but wouldn’t be deterred, so he showed up Friday only to be sent home again. Juin took his story to the ACLU in Mississippi but the school had been quite lax (on purpose?) in their documentation of the incident and suspensions – never really putting on paper what the problem was – and that made it very hard to build a case. The ACLU does great work across the country but they sure have their work cut out for them – on LGBT and other civil rights issues – in Mississippi. They and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition have been doing tons of work to ensure that queer students can have the educational experience they deserve. Due to some housing issues, Juin is now staying with family friends in Pensacola, Florida and his mother has given those friends custody of Juin until she is able to reunite the whole family again. (Dan Savage is collecting funds to enable the family to be all together again) For the time being, Juin is going to take some classes on-line.
"Florida has this thing called a virtual high school. It’ll give me a chance to at least keep up with some school. In the fall I think I’ll go to a local high school. I’ve already made some friends who go there and I really hope things work out this time.
I thanked Juin for talking with me and asked what advice he might have for other gender-queer students out there:
“Stay strong, keep your head up and ignore the bigots. And most of all fight for what you believe in.
I agree with you, Juin, as Randy Jackson would say, 110%. Help students like Juin by encouraging your member of Congress to co-sponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act!
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