Constance McMillen A Mississippi federal court has ruled school officials violated a lesbian student's First Amendment rights when it cancelled the high school prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. The US Court for the Northern District of Mississippi stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School to put the school prom back on the calendar because of assurances that an alternative "private" prom being planned by parents would be open to all students. The American Civil Liberties Union had requested a preliminary injunction stopping the Itawamba County School District from cancelling the prom and from prohibiting Constance McMillen from bringing her girlfriend as a date and wearing a tuxedo to the event. "It feels really good that the court realized that the school was violating my rights and discriminating against me by cancelling the prom. All I ever wanted was for my school to treat me and my girlfriend like any other couple that wants to go to prom," says 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." 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. The MSSC and the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union say they 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. Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi Kristy Bennett says the 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. "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." McMillen's case was thrust into the spotlight when Ellen Degeneres gave her a US$30,000 cheque towards a college scholarship on her talkshow, on behalf of digital media company Tonic.com. Ellen told Constance, "I admire you so much. When I was your age I never would have had the strength to do what you are doing."
Credit: GayNZ.com Daily News Staff
First published: Thursday, 25th March 2010 - 6:08pm
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