Remember Constance McMillen? She’s the lesbian teen in Fulton, Miss., who fought to take her date to the prom and wear a tuxedo. Her case drew national attention after she and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the Itawamba County School District. The district had banned same-sex prom dates and decreed that only male students could wear tuxedos.
The court upheld Constance’s right to attend the prom, tuxedo and all. But the prom had by then been cancelled—a transparent effort to keep Constance away. In what appeared to be a compromise, school district officials said parents would organize a private event that everyone would be invited to attend.
So students got their end-of-year party, Constance got to wear her tux and the district got to save face by not officially holding the prom. Cue the happy ending, right? As the Associated Press reports, never underestimate small-minded people:
Senior prom fell far short of the rite of passage Constance McMillen was hoping for when she began a legal battle to challenge a ban on same-sex dates.
The 18-year-old lesbian student said Tuesday she was one of only seven students to show up at a private event chaperoned by school officials last Friday night. She said the rest of her peers went to another private event where she wasn't invited.
Two of the seven kids who attended Constance’s event were mentally disabled. Apparently, nobody invited them to the "real" prom either.
A classmate of Constance’s made a spirited, if not terribly bright, defense of the town’s massive fake-out using an "Open Letter." In it, she blamed Constance for “her decision to throw the district under the bus.” (Yes, it takes some gall to want to attend the prom with the date of your choosing.) "Now we're getting flack because poor Connie's ego got a bit of a bruising," the letter says. "She's playing the lesbian card to prove she ALWAYS gets what she wants. This time, we didn't let her."
The reactions have been what you would expect. Most people are shocked. The betrayal by school officials is particularly jaw-dropping. Others have made excuses. Well, this is the South, they say. Well, this is a small town. As Teaching Tolerance has shown though, other southern small towns have handled the same issue with some maturity. They most certainly did not fool the social outcasts into attending their own insulting little prom so that the cool kids could party elsewhere unsullied by those who play "the lesbian card."
Many involved in this well-orchestrated ostracism will defend it until the day they die. In fact, the increased criticism will only confirm their belief that they behaved correctly and are terribly misunderstood. But others among them will in time grasp the depth of their pettiness. After all the headlines have faded—perhaps after some have had gay children of their own—they will realize with a sickening rush just how juvenile and avoidable all this has been. And it will grieve them. It should.
When it mattered most, Fulton, Miss., needed a grown-up to stand up and say, "This is wrong" (or, at the very least, "This is bad PR"). Instead, all the key people sided with what has to be one of the nastiest little conspiracies cooked up by any community anywhere. From now on, the signs that welcome people into town should read "Welcome to Fulton, Miss.—the town outclassed by a teenager."