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Miss. officials defend canceling prom after same-sex date request

Constance McMillen was told she could not escort her girlfriend to her senior prom. Constance McMillen was told she could not escort her girlfriend to her senior prom. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 23, 2010

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ABERDEEN, Miss. — School officials who canceled a prom after a lesbian student asked to bring her girlfriend told a federal judge yesterday that there were issues with the event even before that.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing in US District Court to force the Itawamba County school district to sponsor the prom and allow Constance McMillen to escort her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

Schools Superintendent Teresa McNeece and school board chairman Eddie Hood testified that they had discussed not sponsoring the prom even before McMillen challenged a rule that prohibits same-sex dates. They said they had concerns about liability problems, including possible use of alcohol and drugs at a school-sponsored event.

But they also said they decided to call off the April 2 prom at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton because McMillen’s challenge to the rules had caused disruptions.

“We were being hounded every day. Our students were being hounded,’’ McNeece said.

McMillen first approached school officials about bringing her girlfriend in December, and again shortly before a Feb. 5 memo about prom rules was circulated to students.

She was told two girls could not attend the prom together and she would not be allowed to wear a tuxedo. The ACLU issued a letter earlier this month demanding that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend and wear what she wanted.

ACLU attorney Kristy Bennett said in court yesterday that the district violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights and that it was the decision to cancel the prom, not McMillen’s request, that caused the disruptions school officials described.