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Constance McMillen takes fight over same-sex prom date to court

Mississippi teen Constance McMillen wanted to bring a same-sex date to her prom, but rather than allow that to happen, her high school canceled the dance.

By Staff writer / March 11, 2010


The battle over interracial versus racially segregated proms has roiled Southern high school life for years, but the case of gay teen Constance McMillen represents a new front in the Dixie prom wars: same-sex dates.

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After Ms. McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi, announced she’d be wearing a tuxedo and bringing a female date, a sophomore, to the school’s April 2 dance, the school district said no way. Officials then circulated a flier saying students could not bring same-sex dates.

When McMillen and a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) gave the school district a deadline to rescind the ruling, the school board on Wednesday voted to cancel the prom rather than abide by McMillen’s wish. On Thursday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in US district court, charging that school officials violated McMillen's free speech rights when they told her they would enforce the district's policy requiring prom dates to be of the opposite sex.

Fearing recrimination, McMillen didn't want to return to campus Thursday, and said she might have to switch schools.

"That's really messed up because the message they are sending is that if they have to let gay people go to prom that they are not going to have one," she told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger after learning of the cancellation. "A bunch of kids at school are really going to hate me for this, so in a way it's really retaliation."

McMillen did go to school Thursday, and encountered some hard feelings from classmates, but said she was standing up for herself and others in her situation. "My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I'm still proud of who I am," McMillen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The fact that this will help people later on, that's what's helping me to go on."

Though school officials haven’t commented on Wednesday’s decision, earlier remarks indicate they feared McMillen's choice of date could become a disruption to the school’s educational process.

The controversy touches on the often uneasy tensions that can surround gay dating in high school.