I never went to my senior prom.
I don’t look back on missing the prom as if it were some kind of major trauma in life, but some of the events surrounding it still do sting a bit, twenty years later. I was a nerdy kid back in high school: kind of overweight, into weird hobbies, living under strict parental control and with a smallish circle of friends. While there were one or two guys who flirted with me, it took until the day of my graduation for one of them to admit he really did like me but couldn’t be seen dating someone who was “so smart” like me. Some of my friends tried to set me up on a “pity date” for the prom, but I wanted no part of that. I preferred not going over being laughed at or being The Girl Who Couldn’t Get a Real Date to the Prom.
In retrospect now, however, my prom “drama” is miniscule compared to what Mississippi student Constance McMillen has been going through. Earlier this year, her school district, Itawamba County, announced they would be canceling the April 2 prom due to “recent distractions”. It turned out said distractions were Constance asking to be able to bring her girlfriend to the prom, and to wear a tuxedo to the event. School policy requires prom dates to be of the opposite sex. The ACLU came to Constance’s aid, requesting that this policy be revoked and said that it was a violation of Constance’s constitutional rights to be excluded from the event.
Many internet blogs and groups rallied to support Constance, and she even appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show. Ellen awarded her with a college scholarship for her strength and bravery being “out” and trying to fight against the discriminatory system in place in her high school. A judge ruled that the school could not bar her from attending the prom, but did not go as far as ordering the school to reinstate the prom because a parent-organized, private event was supposedly being organized to replace it.
Constance was supposed to be allowed to attend this event, by order of the court, but it appears instead she only got the run-around. Friday night, April 2, when she went to the supposedly official prom chaperoned by several parents and school officials, she only found five other people there besides herself and her date. Two of those other students in attendance were learning disabled. It seemed the rest of her classmates-the “normal”, straight, non-disabled ones-had gone to a “secret” event at another location.
It didn’t remain secret for long, as students who attended the big event posted pictures from it on Facebook and Flickr, bragging about how they won one over on Constance and her legal battles. One student even commented on a post criticizing them, stating:
“Take it as you will, because I’m sure it sounds like we faked her out, but understand this- the decision NOT to attend prom had nothing to do with the school or with Constance’s sexual preferences; it had everything to do with proving we weren’t going to let her and the ACLU steamroll us into doing what Constance wanted. We flexed the muscle of the majority and we’ll suffer the consequences.”
Reading the news of what happened to Constance has just left me completely disgusted and horrified. Do we really still have people so bigoted and mean-spirited in this country that they can’t let a girl enjoy her prom because of the gender of her date? Are we raising our children to be proud of continuing such discriminatory practices and hatred?
High school is a difficult enough time for any kid who doesn’t quite “fit in” with the beautiful people or the popular crowd. Now it seems that some high schools find nothing wrong with making that time even more difficult by singling out those who are different-either for sexual orientation or disabilities-and not even allowing them to attend the same events as the “normal” students do. A blog has even reported that previously, Itawamba suspended a trans student for the way he chose to dress and made sure to drive him out of town.
Constance McMillen should be praised for her courage in being open about her sexuality in such a close-minded community such as hers. She has shown nothing but grace and dignity in interviews and in her statements to the press and public-a far cry from how her classmates have acted, bragging about excluding her and even creating Facebook pages to celebrate it. It also upsets me that so many use their religion to “support” their bigotry in this case. I consider myself a Christian and to see these people abusing the messages of love and acceptance in the Christian faith, using it instead to support hate and exclusion, saddens me deeply.
I hope that Constance will soon be able to move forward in life-and get out of such a hateful place by going to college somewhere more accepting of people who are different. I don’t have much hope, however, that things will be any easier for future gay students at Itawamba. Not unless radical chance is brought about, and teachers and administrators look to combat discrimination there-not encourage it.
La Figa: McMillen: I Was Sent to Fake Prom
Associated Press: Miss. lesbian student’s prom night falls short
AKA William: Classmate Explains Why Constance McMillen Was Sent To Fake Prom: Because She’s Lesbian!
The Stranger: Trans Student Suspended from Same School in Mississippi That Canceled Prom, Later Hounded Out of Town