JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — School officials in a rural Mississippi county told a lesbian student to get “guys” to take her and her girlfriend to a high school prom and warned the girls against slow dancing with each other because that could “push people’s buttons,” according to documents filed Tuesday in federal court.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Itawamba County School District and some officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School on behalf of Constance McMillen, 18, who wanted to escort her girlfriend to the prom and wear a tuxedo. A hearing is scheduled for Monday to hear an ACLU motion that seeks to force the district to hold the April 2 prom it canceled after McMillen made her requests.
In the court documents, McMillen said Rick Mitchell, the assistant principal at the school, told her she could not attend the prom with her girlfriend but they could go with “guys.” Superintendent Teresa McNeece told the teen that the girls should attend the prom separately, had to wear dresses and couldn’t slow dance with each other because that could “push people’s buttons,” according to court documents.
The school district last week said it wouldn’t host the prom “due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events.” District officials said they hoped private citizens would sponsor a dance. The decision came on the same day the ACLU asked the district to act on McMillen’s prom requests.
McMillen said she approached school officials weeks ago about wanting to take her girlfriend to the prom.
“I want my prom experience to be the same as all of the other students, a night to remember with the person I’m dating,” McMillen said.
The district, located in northern Mississippi near the Alabama state line, prohibits same-sex dates at the prom. The ACLU has said that violates the rights of gay and lesbian students.
The school district had not responded to the ACLU filing by Tuesday afternoon.
Christine Sun, a senior counsel with the ACLU’s national gay rights project, said the organization is determined to put the prom back on the school calendar.
Fulton Mayor Paul Walker said he has heard that parents are making plans for a private dance but he didn’t know the details. It’s unclear if gay couples would be welcome at that event.
The ACLU has taken on similar cases in recent months.
In October, the ACLU sent a demand letter to the school district in Copiah County, Miss., after officials refused to let 17-year-old Ceara Sturgis be photographed in a tuxedo for the yearbook. The district stood by its decision and the ACLU said it is still considering litigation.
In November, officials at Tharptown High School in Franklin County, Ala., reversed an earlier decision to bar a lesbian from attending the prom with a female date. After the ACLU issued a demand letter, the decision was reversed, said Gary Smith, superintendent of Franklin County Schools.
“The ACLU told us we were infringing on her rights as a student. In view of that, we had to let her bring her,” Smith recently said.