HRC Blog

Mississippi School Cancels Prom Rather than Allow Same-Sex Couple to Attend

This post is from HRC Youth and Campus Outreach Associate Director Candace Gingrich-Jones: A high school in Mississippi has decided that they will cancel the prom entirely rather than allow a same-sex couple to attend.  This isn’t an unusual occurrence, unfortunately – particularly in the south we have seen schools try to limit the visibility and participation of queer students. Most of the times the schools realize (read: are told to do the right thing) their error and make amends. Just last year the same situation arose at a high school in neighboring Alabama, when Cynthia Stewart wanted to bring her female date to the prom at Tharptown High. The ACLU again got involved, sent a demand letter and the school district reversed their earlier decision. But not at Itawamba Agricultural High School. Senior Constance McMillian had asked for permission to attend the prom with a female sophomore classmate as her date. She was also told that she could not wear a tuxedo because she is a girl. The high school responded by telling her she could not arrive with her same-sex date to the prom and if she did and they danced together they would be thrown out. With her families support, McMillian contacted the ACLU aclu.org who sent the school district a demand letter [pdf], laying out the constitutional argument in support of the student. They also took it a step further and in the letter asked the Itawamba School District make it clear to all schools that it is “unlawful to censor peaceful and appropriate expressions by students of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and support for gay and transgender rights.” For those who have been following the D.C. Catholic Charities saga, the school’s reaction may not be surprising: cancel prom. In a move that I certainly hope will not become a trend, the school, like Catholic Charities, decided that if they had to include the homos then they wouldn’t allow anyone to participate. The school, similar to CC again, sent a letter to the school insinuating that it is McMillian’s fault that prom was cancelled “Due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events, the Itawamba County School District has decided to not host a prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School this year.” That’s it – when the rubber hits the road find some way to blame the gays and everything will turn out fine. A decade ago we saw a similar situation when Salt Lake City’s East High School chose to cancel 46 non-curricular clubs just so they could avoid recognizing the gay-straight alliance at the school.  This particular incident is seen by many to be the birth of the Gay-Straight Alliance boom across the country – thanks to Salt Lake City’s narrow-mindedness 10 years ago there are now 4000 Gay-Straight Alliances registered with GLSEN. It is unclear what repercussions there will be in Mississippi – the district has  dismissed the issue saying “It is our hope that private citizens will organize an event for the juniors and seniors. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this causes anyone." With a little luck, McMillian’s classmates may realize that discrimination against anyone inconveniences everyone, and a new movement will begin.

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