Image: Constance McMillen
Matthew Sharpe  /  AP
Constance McMillen, a senior at Itawamba County Agricultural High School, reads online support messages in her challenge to be allowed to go to a school prom in a tuxedo and with her girlfriend.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/5/2010 1:49:21 PM ET 2010-04-05T17:49:21

Constance McMillen, the Mississippi teen suing her high school over a ban on same-sex couples attending the prom, thought the worst might be over when the school agreed to a private dance to be held off school property. But when she and her date arrived at the Fulton Country Club on Friday night, they found only seven other students.

"She didn't stay very long because of the sparse attendance," Kristy Bennett, her legal counsel, told msnbc.com.

"We've heard there was another event out in the county," said Bennett, legal director for the Mississippi branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We're still trying to get more information," she said, citing a newspaper report last week in which one student was quoted as saying other parties were in the works.

The ACLU is representing McMillen in a lawsuit against the Itawamba County School District and Bennett said that at the very least the sparsely attended dance "will be brought to the court's attention."

In a statement, the ACLU said it was "looking further into whether it was a decoy or sham prom.

"It would be deeply troubling if that turns out to be the case since the fact that this prom was occurring was one reason the judge did not force the school district to reinstate its original event," the ACLU added. "All Constance has ever wanted was to be treated with equality and dignity and to be able to be herself, and this latest event, if it is as it appears to be, is a sad and unfortunate insult added to too many previous injuries.

A Facebook page set up by the ACLU said that "Constance tried to make the best of it and had a nice evening with the other students from her school who attended, but is of course disappointed that so few of her classmates were there."

District Superintendent Teresa McNeece did not immediately return a call or e-mail seeking comment.

As for McMillen, she went to classes Monday at Itawamba Agricultural High School, Bennett said.

OK was given Tuesday
Itawamba County School Board attorney Michele Floyd had said last Tuesday that McMillen, 18, could escort her girlfriend to the dance Friday at the Fulton Country Club.

That event was presumably set up to replace the prom the school district canceled rather than let McMillen wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend, who is also a student at Itawamba Agricultural High School.

A federal judge ruled earlier that the school district's actions violated McMillen's constitutional rights, but he didn't reinstate the school prom. He said he would hold a trial on the matter later.

School officials said in court that they decided to cancel the prom because McMillen's challenge to prom rules had caused disruptions.

U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson noted that McMillen has been openly gay since she was in the eighth grade and that she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and escorting another girl to the dance.

"The court finds this expression and communication falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment," Davidson said.

The judge said a private prom would serve the same purpose as a school-sponsored one. He wrote that "requiring defendants to step back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue."

School was first asked in December
McMillen first approached school officials about bringing her girlfriend in December, and again in February. Same-sex prom dates had been banned in the past, but she had hoped school officials would grant her request.

"I thought maybe the policy had been in place for a different reason," McMillen testified at a court hearing. "I wanted to let them know how it made me feel. I felt like I couldn't go to the prom."

She was told two girls couldn't attend together and she wouldn't be allowed to wear a tuxedo, court documents show. The ACLU issued a demand letter in March and the district responded by canceling the event. McMillen, who lives with her grandmother and has a 3.8 grade point average, has kept her 16-year-old girlfriend out of the spotlight at the request of the girl's parents.

School district officials said they felt not hosting the prom was the best decision "after taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of our students." Superintendent McNeece said it was "a no-win situation."

The 715-student high school is in Fulton, a town of about 4,000 in rural, north Mississippi. The entire county school district has 3,588 students.

McMillen's case has become a cause celebre. The ACLU Facebook page for McMillen has more than 425,000 fans, and the teen has appeared on the "The Early Show," "The Wanda Sykes Show" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" to talk about how she is fighting for tolerance.

msnbc.com's Miguel Llanos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments