The Mississippi Misstep

share
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

A school district in northern Mississippi has cancelled its high school prom rather than let a lesbian student wearing a tuxedo attend with her girlfriend.

Sound familiar? Yes, resistance-by-avoidance is a favorite tactic of those who don’t want to extend equal rights to one group of people or another.

After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, we saw it when some southern communities shut down their public schools rather than integrate them. The private schools that replaced them were, of course, segregated.

And, as the film Prom Night in Mississippi showed, at least one Mississippi school managed to delay staging an integrated prom until 2008. 

Suddenly, school officials in Itawamba County have discovered that proms create “a distraction to the educational process.”  Funny they never noticed before—any teacher could have told them that.

In an official statement, school officials expressed hope that “private citizens will organize an event for our juniors and seniors.” 

Of course, private citizens aren’t obligated—as public schools are—to guarantee equal protection to everyone. So we imagine that this particular lesbian couple won’t be welcome at any private gala, either.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Last fall, one school in Alabama tried to do the same thing for the same reason. The school first cancelled its prom. But under the threat of an ACLU lawsuit, district officials backed off and did the right thing. In that case, the lesbian couple in question is now welcome to attend prom on March 25. We hope they have a wonderful time.

Comments

File under Heaping on the

Submitted by Maureen Costello on 11 March 2010 - 6:28pm.

File under Heaping on the Injury: The lesbian student is now in the position of villain as she returns to school and gets to hear how she "ruined senior year."

As a school counselor, I know

Submitted by Gretchen on 16 March 2010 - 5:51pm.

As a school counselor, I know that gay and lesbian high school students are one of the very highest risk groups for suicide (often due to constant rejection, ridicule, bullying, threats, etc. while feeling helpless to change so that they can both be accepted and be themselves). The very public rejection and the enormous load of blame put on this girl at a time when peer acceptance is so important may increase that risk. What school would really want to add to that rejection and risk? I hope that she is resilient and can become stronger because of this adversity instead. No doubt she will remember this the rest of her life. If her peers support her by attending an inclusive off-campus prom, perhaps it can undo some of the harm caused by the school.

So, does anyone care to

Submitted by Anonymous on 11 March 2010 - 7:36pm.

So, does anyone care to explain under what basis a lawsuit can be brought forth?

Or is having a prom a constitutional right now?

It is a school-sponsored

Submitted by harriet watson on 11 March 2010 - 8:46pm.

It is a school-sponsored event, so discrimination is illegal.

Exactly, so they cancelled

Submitted by rhonda on 16 March 2010 - 11:22am.

Exactly, so they cancelled the event. Now any private event is just that, private, and discrimination can be used at any level.

Having a prom isn't a

Submitted by Maureen Costello on 11 March 2010 - 10:22pm.

Having a prom isn't a constitutional right. But access on an equal basis with anyone else is a right if the prom is sponsored by a public school, as this one was.

If they're canceling the prom

Submitted by Anonymous on 14 March 2010 - 2:08pm.

If they're canceling the prom entirely, though, it certainly seems like there's equal access for everyone (namely, no access for anyone at all).

That's kind of the point of

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 9:49am.

That's kind of the point of the article, isn't it??

The school is a public

Submitted by Leah Rucker on 16 March 2010 - 11:15am.

The school is a public institution. As with the government it represents, it has no opinion on moral issues. Because it is canceling prom in direct response to a lesbian student's request to attend as herself, it is acting in a biased and discriminatory way toward someone it is supposed to protect and serve. Schools provide functions for their students, and when they choose not to, in order to deny one student's right to be herself, then the ACLU, or anyone for that matter, has the right to hold it accountable.

HOWEVER...the school isn't

Submitted by joancrown on 16 March 2010 - 6:21pm.

HOWEVER...the school isn't acknowledging that they are cancelling the prom in response to the lesbian couple's attendance. Their position is that they cancelled due to the distraction it causes to their educational environment. Convenient, yes. Discriminatory, well... only to those who read between the lines. But that really isn't proof, is it? It's the game they're playing.

In what universe does the

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 10:31pm.

In what universe does the government have no opinion on moral issues? Have you never read the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, or the Constitution?

The school never claimed to cancel the prom in direct response to the lesbian student's request to attend, so you're trying to legislate feelings and motives, rather than actions. I'm sure you would agree that's a rather dangerous course of action.

If the prom is being

Submitted by Jennifer on 12 March 2010 - 9:22am.

If the prom is being sponsored by a public school, those are tax dollars. As such, equal protection/equal opportunity provisions apply. The school can't discriminate on the basis of gender (opposite-sex dates only) if public dollars are in play, which seems to be why the school has now opted to cancel the prom and encouraged private citizens to sponsor their own "straights-only" dance.

Again, though, the school is

Submitted by Anonymous on 14 March 2010 - 2:10pm.

Again, though, the school is not discriminating on the basis of gender or sexuality if it's canceling the prom for all students.

Seriously, Anonymous, do you

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 9:53am.

Seriously, Anonymous, do you not see the point here? YES, the school is cancelling the prom. YES, no one has "access" as you say. Let's discuss, however, the REASON the prom has been canceled this year. THAT is the issue at hand. Rather than risk a potential suit for discrimination for not allowing a lesbian and her date to attend, the school is cancelling the prom. Would the prom have been called off otherwise? Did the school administrators and board just happen to decide in 2010 that proms are a distraction to the eductional process? Coincidence?

How does the reason the prom

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 10:27pm.

How does the reason the prom was canceled make it discrimination, when every student is being treated equally?

I see the point you are

Submitted by Jillian Tegtmeyer on 16 March 2010 - 10:47am.

I see the point you are trying to make. You are saying that if the school told the lesbian couple they could not attend, then it would be discrimination; however, since the school decided to cancel the prom instead, it is no longer an issue of discrimination.

I disagree with that point. If the school had cancelled the prom before the lesbian student had decided she wanted equal rights and wanted to attend prom with her girlfriend, then maybe they could have argued that they were just cancelling prom because it is a “distraction to the educational process.” They also could have cancelled it because they couldn't afford it or because they wanted to prevent incidents of drunk driving. Please do not argue that they just happened to realize that prom is enough of a distraction to be cancelled the same year a lesbian student decided to bring her girlfriend to prom. You might as well argue that the schools that closed their doors rather than integrate just happened to realize that private schools were better than public schools right after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

I don't claim to know why

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 10:33pm.

I don't claim to know why they canceled the prom. I know their claim as to why they did. Legislating suspicions of motives is awfully dubious.

Well, certainly there should

Submitted by Randy on 16 March 2010 - 10:36am.

Well, certainly there should be a FOIA request for all the district's e-mails and records regarding this decision. If there's any indication that the decision not to hold prom was made in order to prevent the lesbian couple from attending, then I feel confident there's some equal access grounds for suing. It doesn't matter if the effect is the same for all students if the intent was to discriminate against particular students. IANAL.

It's not so much a

Submitted by rhonda on 16 March 2010 - 11:20am.

It's not so much a constitutional right as it is avoiding the cost of lawyers and court fees. Many school districts (I know I work for one) will cave to a large, possibly very expensive lawsuit, rather than hold their ground believing whatever it is they believe--right or wrong!

This obviously isn't the sort

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 10:42pm.

This obviously isn't the sort of thing that should be encouraged, though. Using the legal system as a tool for financial bullying certainly does not end well, unless you like the idea of massive corporations riding roughshod over the vast majority of the population.

Hi, Maureen - Thank you for

Submitted by Susan Andres on 11 March 2010 - 10:08pm.

Hi, Maureen - Thank you for posting this. Just want to let you and others know about the Virtual Prom to Support LGBT High School Students in Mississippi -- and Everywhere.

Here's the link: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=389419375445

I had heard that a hotel

Submitted by Glenna Jones-Kachtik on 16 March 2010 - 10:06am.

I had heard that a hotel manager in New Orleans had volunteered one of his banquet rooms & transportation of students to New Orleans to hold their prom. I am not sure what the consensus of students was on this though; I don't know if they are going to take him up on it.
There are those who think this girl is just selfish & that she should just suck it up and that her needs should be moot for all the straight students in the school. Then there are those of us who support her...thanks for the listing of the virtual prom.

This is ludicrous and it's an

Submitted by Cori on 16 March 2010 - 10:21am.

This is ludicrous and it's an example that we haven't come as far as we think we have in progressing toward being a tolerant, open minded society. For God's sake, people, pull your head out of your butt! You should be ashamed of yourselves! I don't know what the big deal is, everyone already knows she is gay and is it really a big deal that she wants to wear a tux instead of a dress and bring a girl to the prom? Wake up!

I have heard that a private

Submitted by Gail on 16 March 2010 - 11:07am.

I have heard that a private group will host a prom and that ALL will be welcome - including lesbians in tuxedos. It will be interesting to see if students will follow this group in supporting tolerance and rejecting hate.

I thought this website is

Submitted by michael on 16 March 2010 - 11:28am.

I thought this website is called "Tolerance". If the school feels that having Lesbians is disruptive--or whatever reason they choose--than shouldn't we be tolerant of their views? Why does "tolerance" only apply to being tolerant of left wing values? Why can't we be tolerant of those who feel differently than we do?
I'm from NYC. We have no issues with gays in this town. But i can respect and tolerate those people that feel differently about it than I do. Judging by many of the comments on this site--about this issue and others--I'm not sure this website should be called "teaching Tolerance" and instead should be called liberal indoctrination.

Michael, do you mean that we

Submitted by Joe on 16 March 2010 - 12:32pm.

Michael, do you mean that we should tolerate and allow discrimination? This seems to be a case where the decision was made due to bias. Do you think a prom or activity should be canceled because of discrimination against jews, blacks, or muslims or another group? I do not believe that we should tolerate bigotry or discrimination. I am glad that many Americans have chosen also to fight against intolerance or we would not have made the gains we have made in civil rights. I respect your right to your opinion,but I disagree and feel no public school should make their decisions based on a bias such as this. I also don't think that equal rights for gays and lesbians is "left wing". I am glad you have no issues with gays in your town, and hopefully our entire country and then the world will eventually feel the same.

I cannot speak for Michael,

Submitted by Anonymous on 16 March 2010 - 10:37pm.

I cannot speak for Michael, but to play devil's advocate for a moment, what if discrimination is a core part of their culture? Should we suppress their culture in favor of someone else's, or does it make more sense to let an individual community determine what is and is not allowed?

If we do suppress it, under what basis do we choose that one culture is better than another?

I think you made a valid

Submitted by Tracy on 16 March 2010 - 9:49pm.

I think you made a valid point. Teaching Tolerance sounds like a great title. But this doctrine the organization supports is a false one.

Okay, Tracey. No, that was

Submitted by Autumn Odette on 17 March 2010 - 2:42pm.

Okay, Tracey. No, that was not a valid point. Michael, Anonymous and you should really read a little more on the Teaching Tolerance website to better understand this issue.

Education is the key to ending intolerance. You won't educate anyone by running in and demanding they change decades or even centuries of attitude, belief and custom. You can educate them into understanding how some (or many) of their beliefs are false. You can change attitudes by forcing a questioning of false beliefs. Customs can be changed over time and, as we saw here in the U.S. during the struggle for Civil Rights for minorities, sometimes in order to protect people from discrimination certain customs must be outlawed.

Preventing discrimination against people for being different isn't even close to suppressing one's culture, nor is one culture being "picked" as better than another. (And on one HUGE SIDE NOTE: Any culture on God's green earth claiming it has no homosexuality is LYING.) Culture is many different things. Discrimination against people for being different is the same ugly thing it has been since the beginning of time.

"You can educate them into

Submitted by Anonymous on 17 March 2010 - 9:12pm.

"You can educate them into understanding how some (or many) of their beliefs are false." -So, care to explain how one would educate someone into understanding that homosexuality or normative gender roles being wrong is demonstrably false, given that morals are never a matter of fact?

"You can change attitudes by forcing a questioning of false beliefs." -See above. How can you call a "belief" false when it's a moral-based belief, rather than a fact-based belief?

"sometimes in order to protect people from discrimination certain customs must be outlawed."- How is this not discrimination in and of itself? Let's curb discrimination against our favored groups by discriminating against less favored groups?

"Preventing discrimination against people for being different isn't even close to suppressing one's culture, nor is one culture being "picked" as better than another." -So, if a culture believes that homosexuality is wrong, forcing said culture to accept it isn't suppressing their culture? And it's not picking one culture over the other? You'll have to explain how this is the case. Explain, not assert.

"And on one HUGE SIDE NOTE: Any culture on God's green earth claiming it has no homosexuality is LYING." -Unsubstantiated assertion. Also, unprovable.

"Discrimination against people for being different is the same ugly thing it has been since the beginning of time." -Our society discriminates against violent criminals for being "different". In what way is this ugly?

I feel bad for all of the

Submitted by Kristy on 19 March 2010 - 3:57pm.

I feel bad for all of the students who will miss prom because adults (who probably went to a prom)decided to cancel it.

I like this argument best.

Submitted by Jesse on 22 March 2010 - 9:49am.

I like this argument best. We could argue all day about why this prom was cancelled and what this means in our society, but really it's just too bad that no one can attend a function that most every adolescent looks forward to. Oh, and my homosexual female cousin came to my wedding in a tux. Big deal...

Do I feel bad for the

Submitted by Diane on 27 March 2010 - 1:28pm.

Do I feel bad for the students? Most certainly, but have any of the ignorant adults asked the students what they wanted? I DOUBT IT! I am a teacher and I would never make a decision for my students that they are able to make for themselves. The teachers and parents should be ashamed of themselves. I am quite sure that not all of the adults involved realize that at one point in time that their "kind" were not accepted because they were Irish, Italian, Native American or any other damn background. Once upon a time if you were coming off the boat you weren't given a damn thing. You had to earn respect and fight for your rights, the rights that are being denied in this situation. I am quite sure that their ancestors would be ashamed at how they are treating this girl.

This is a website about tolerance and I am not one to tell people what to believe culturally or any other way but for the administration, teachers and parents to make a decision for students who are quite capable of making it themselves, they ARE in the WRONG. We live in a time where beliefs change constantly from generation to generation and this generation should be able to decide for themselves what they want. Seriously, if the administration thinks for one minute that the people of this nation do not see the truth behind the cancellation of this prom than they are sadly mistaken. Not only do they make their town look bad but they make their state look even worse. I for one would never move to a town where my child, with her own beliefs, would be discriminated against because of those beliefs.

I believe in Karma and boy would I love to be their when it comes and bites everyone of those adults right in their posterior. This girl has her rights to a life, a happy, complete and EQUAL life. She should not let these ignorant, biased morons let her feel like she is any less special than any other person on this earth.

HOLD STRONG AND DON'T LET THE IGNORANCE OF OTHERS GET YOU DOWN!