Mississippi School Agrees To Revise Policy And Pay Damages To Lesbian Teenager Denied Chance To Attend Prom

July 20, 2010

from the ACLU

Agreement Marks First School Policy Protecting LGBT Students In Mississippi

Itawamba County School District officials agreed to have a judgment entered against them in the case of a recent high school graduate who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. The agreement ends a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 18-year-old Constance McMillen, who suffered humiliation and harassment after parents, students and school officials executed a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.

“I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s worth it if it changes things at my school,” said McMillen, who was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year. “I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school.”

As set forth in documents filed in court today, school officials agreed to implement a policy banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first policy to do so at a public school in the state of Mississippi. The school also agreed to pay McMillen $35,000 in damages and pay for McMillen’s attorneys’ fees.

“Constance went through a great deal of harassment and humiliation simply for standing up for her rights, and she should be proud of what she has accomplished,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Thanks to her bravery, we now not only have a federal court precedent that can be used to protect the rights of students all over the country to bring the date they want to their proms, but we also have the first school anti-discrimination policy of its kind in Mississippi.”

In addition to today’s legal judgment against the school, an earlier ruling in the case set an important precedent that will help prevent other students from suffering the kind of discrimination McMillen experienced. In March, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

“We’re pleased that the school district agreed to be held liable for violating Constance’s rights. Now Constance can move on with her life and Itawamba school officials can show the world that they have learned a lesson about equal treatment for all students,” said Kristy L. Bennett, co-counsel on McMillen’s case. “This has been about much more than just the prom all along – it’s about all of our young people deserving to be treated fairly by the schools we trust to take care of them.”

After IAHS’s original prom date was canceled by school officials in response to McMillen’s request that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo, parents organized a private prom at which district officials told a federal judge McMillen and her date would be welcome. That private prom was then canceled as well, allegedly because parents did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a “decoy” prom for McMillen and her date and another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was “the prom for juniors and seniors” on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen’s classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.

“We hope this judgment sends a message to schools that they cannot get away with discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. LGBT youth just want to be treated like their peers and do all the normal high school things, like going to the prom with the date they choose,” said Bear Atwood, Interim Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi. “We’re very proud of Constance for standing up not just for her rights but the rights of LGBT students everywhere.”

McMillen is represented by Sun, Bennett and Atwood, as well as by Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick and Jason Moff of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.

The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al. Additional information is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Bring Her Girlfriend to the Prom,” at www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.


School Cuts Gay Student Photo from Yearbook

April 27, 2010

by Adam Lynch | Jackson Free Press

When Veronica Rodriguez opened Wesson Attendance Center’s Yearbook on Friday, she didn’t find a trace of her lesbian daughter Ceara Sturgis after a long battle with school officials to include a photo of her daughter wearing a tuxedo in the school’s 2010 yearbook.

read more


ACLU Complaint Takes On “Decoy” Prom For Mississippi Lesbian Student New Information Revealed In Constance McMillen Case

April 21, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union filed legal papers today in federal court on behalf of lesbian high school student Constance McMillen regarding a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.  The amended complaint alleges that the district’s violation of the free speech rights of McMillen, an 18-year-old high school senior who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend, have repeatedly caused McMillen to be humiliated and harassed.

“I really hoped that prom night would make all that I’ve been through worth it, then April 2 came and those hopes went out the window,” said McMillen. “All I ever wanted was to go to my school prom with my classmates and my date, like anyone else, and instead I was the target of a mean, nasty joke.”

On March 23, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a preliminary ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. The court stopped short of ordering Itawamba Agricultural High School (IAHS) to put the school prom back on the calendar relying on assurances that an alternative “private” prom being planned by parents would be open to all students, including McMillen.

However, according to legal papers, at a meeting with school officials, parents then decided to cancel that private prom without notifying McMillen because they did not want to allow McMillen to attend, instead organizing a “decoy” prom for McMillen and her date and still another prom for the rest of the class. McMillen and her date then attended the event the school had told her was “the prom for juniors and seniors” on April 2, where they found only seven other students attending. Principal Trae Wiygul and several school staff members were supervising that event while most of McMillen’s classmates were at the other prom in Evergreen, Mississippi.

“Constance is a very brave young woman, and she has suffered tremendously because of the animosity and hate she’s felt coming from her classmates and her community which the school’s actions have encouraged,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Even after a federal court found that the school violated her constitutional rights, an 18-year-old girl has been made the scapegoat and an outsider in the town where she’s lived all her life. For the school to subject Constance to this type of hostility is simply inexcusable.”

Today’s amended complaint contains new details about events that have taken place since the ACLU first filed McMillen’s case on March 11, including about the way her classmates have treated her. Most of McMillen’s classmates no longer speak to her, and some have posted Facebook messages saying they wish she were dead and sent her such text messages as, “I don’t know why you come to this school because no one likes your gay ass anyways.”  In response to the court’s March 23 order, the complaint also adds a request for compensatory damages for an amount to be determined later at trial.

“After the court ruled that IAHS acted illegally when it canceled the prom, we hoped that Constance would be able to attend the private prom without further incident,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi. “But instead there was a malicious plan to further ostracize and humiliate her.  It is hard to conceive of adults behaving in such a cruel way.”

McMillen is represented by Bennett and Sun, as well as by Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick, and Jason Moff of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, and Alysson Mills of New Orleans.

The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al. Additional information is available at http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Bring Her Girlfriend to the Prom,” at www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.


We’ll Show You the Real Prom

April 7, 2010

By now you’ve probably heard of Constance McMillen. Constance is an 18-year-old from Mississippi who, when she tried to buy tickets for herself and her girlfriend to attend the prom, was promptly told not only that she was forbidden from attending with her girlfriend, but she could not wear a tuxedo. When Constance went to the ACLU—who took her case immediately and sent the school a letter demanding that Constance be allowed to attend the prom with her girlfriend—the school cancelled the prom, rather than allow a lesbian couple to attend.

It’s as absurd and outrageous a homophobic story as we’ve heard in a while. But that was not the end of this saga. When an “alternative” prom organized by her schoolmates’ parents was held this past weekend, Constance and her girlfriend showed up, only to discover that they and five other students—some of whom are differently-abled—were the only ones in attendance. And that the “real” prom was actually being held elsewhere, and the event they were attending was simply a ruse to keep all the so-called “outcasts” away from the “real” prom.

Now that is just beyond the pale. The parents who set Constance up to attend a “fake” prom should be deeply ashamed of themselves. With role models like that, it’s no wonder her classmates have been so cruel. As we all know, it’s Constance who will have the last laugh, however. The ACLU is working hard on their ongoing lawsuit with the school district to ensure justice for Constance. The fight is not over, and I am so glad she is in such capable hands.

When I was Constance’s age, I would never have had the courage she has to stand up for who I was and to demand basic respect and equality. Constance has sparked a remarkable and sustained outpouring of support. Her story and her truth have inspired everyone committed to justice.

When all of us at NCLR first heard about her story, we wanted to do anything we could for her. She didn’t need legal representation—she’s got that taken care of—what she needed was a prom! So I am so pleased to announce that Constance McMillen and her friend Ceara Sturgis will be at NCLR’s 33rd Anniversary Celebration, often referred to as “the lesbian prom.”

“With everything Constance has been through at her school over the past few weeks, we’re grateful for any chance to remind her that while her school violated her rights, she’s appreciated and respected all over the country for her fight to be treated equally. It’s wonderful that our friends at NCLR are giving Constance a fun, special night,” Christine Sun, Senior Attorney, ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project.

If ever there were a prom for her to attend, our event is it—it is attended by nearly 2,000 people of every stripe and walk of life: young and old; lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and straight; differently-abled; and so much more. We’re so glad she can make it, and we know it will be a thrill for everyone to have her there. She will be rightly surrounded by the love and support she deserves. Make no mistake: we plan to give her a weekend she’ll never forget. It will make all these other proms and fake-proms fade into distant memory.

Sincerely,



McMillen: I Was Sent to Fake Prom

April 5, 2010

from the Advocate.com

To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a “fake prom” while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.

read more


Gay Teen in Prom Case Feels Ostracized Locally, Celebrated Nationally

March 26, 2010

by Jessica Ravitz | CNN

Walking into school Wednesday morning was not easy for Constance McMillen. The last time she’d been there was March 11, the day after her Fulton, Mississippi, high school canceled prom rather than allow her to wear a tuxedo and attend with her girlfriend.

read more


Court Rules That Mississippi School Violated First Amendment Rights Of Lesbian Student

March 23, 2010

Alternative MSSC Prom Open To All Students Will Be Held May 8

A Mississippi federal court today ruled that school officials violated a lesbian student’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let the student attend with her girlfriend. The U.S. 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 canceling the prom and from prohibiting Constance McMillen from bringing her girlfriend as a date and wearing a tuxedo to the event.

read more


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers