Constance Leighann McMillen is a brave senior high school student that wouldn’t be quiet when her high school in Northern Mississippi told her she couldn’t bring her girlfriend to the prom. Oh and by the way, they told her “No” she could not wear a tuxedo either! Instead the Itawamba Agricultural High School cancelled the prom. I wrote about her previously.
Now a federal judge appointed to the bench by Ronald Regan has ruled in favor of McMillen’s rights. This is an important ruling not just for her but for gay and lesbian students everywhere. With the help of the ACLU, McMillen didn’t want her civil rights violated. And she spoke up. U.S. District Court Judge Glen Davidson ruled that her rights had been violated when the school authorities told her she could attend the prom but only as a single person or with a male and that she could not wear a tuxedo only a dress. McMillen has identified as a lesbian since the eighth grade.
The judge ruled that this was a violation of her First Amendment rights to express herself. He ruled that she would suffer irreparable harm if she was denied this right.
But unfortunately the judge stopped there. He did not force the high school and the school district to reinstate the prom which was cancelled. The prom had been scheduled for April 2. Parents had already decided to create and sponsor an alternative prom. The judge ruled that since there was an alternative prom already scheduled to try to reschedule the school prom didn’t make sense. He didn’t want to get into the business of planning a prom. Here is an excerpt from his ruling:
The Court finds that requiring Defendants to step-back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue. Parents have taken the initiative to plan and pay for a “private” prom for the Juniors and Seniors of IAHS and to now require Defendants to host one as it had: originally planned would defeat the purpose and efforts of those individuals.
In addition, the power and interests of fin Article III Court has its limits and under the circumstances, the Court cannot go into the business of planning and overseeing a prom hosted by Defendants, especially in light of the fact that the parents of IAHS students have already undertaken such tasks. Therefore, the Court finds that issuing an injunction would be disruptive to the efforts of the community and would not be in the public’s interest
So the judge kind of splits the baby in two (for those of you who don’t get the biblical reference, it is a story about the wisdom of King Solomon). He affirms McMillen’s constitutional rights to take whomever she wishes to the prom. But doesn’t force the school to reinstate the prom since there is one being planned by local families.
The ACLU of Mississippi declared this ruling an important win. It is progress. But had the judge forced the school district and high school to move forward with the “official” prom then the win might have even been bigger because it would have sent an important legal message to school districts everywhere: You can’t violate gay and lesbian students rights.
The full court case trial hasn’t been set but it is likely that McMillen will be able to seek monetary damages.
In the mean time it is a win and I hope that Constance understands what an important role she has played in the timeline of GLBT civil rights.
This was more than about the prom. It was about the freedom to be herself.
For Jews everywhere on this first day of Passover–we are experiencing the journey of freedom. Freedom from that which enslaves us. For Constance –she has helped set gay and lesbian students free in a new way.