ACLU | Constance McMillen | Discrimination | Mississippi | News

Mississippi School That Denied Lesbian Constance McMillen Her Prom Will Change Discrimination Policy, Pay Damages

Big news from Mississippi concerning one of the biggest LGBT stories of the year.

The Itawamba School District, which denied lesbian student Constance McMillen the right to attend prom with her girlfriend, has agreed to update its anti-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and will pay McMillen $35,000 in damages.

Constance Via press release from the ACLU:

Itawamba County School District officials agreed to have a judgment entered against them in the case of a recent high school graduate who sued her school for canceling the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. The agreement ends a precedent-setting lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 18-year-old Constance McMillen, who suffered humiliation and harassment after parents, students and school officials executed a cruel plan to put on a “decoy” prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away.

“I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s worth it if it changes things at my school,” said McMillen, who was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year. “I hope this means that in the future students at my school will be treated fairly. I know there are students and teachers who want to start a gay-straight alliance club, and they should be able to do that without being treated like I was by the school.”

As set forth in documents filed in court today, school officials agreed to implement a policy banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first policy to do so at a public school in the state of Mississippi. The school also agreed to pay McMillen $35,000 in damages and pay for McMillen’s attorneys’ fees.

“Constance went through a great deal of harassment and humiliation simply for standing up for her rights, and she should be proud of what she has accomplished,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Thanks to her bravery, we now not only have a federal court precedent that can be used to protect the rights of students all over the country to bring the date they want to their proms, but we also have the first school anti-discrimination policy of its kind in Mississippi.”

In addition to today’s legal judgment against the school, an earlier ruling in the case set an important precedent that will help prevent other students from suffering the kind of discrimination McMillen experienced. In March, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi issued a ruling in McMillen’s case that school officials violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights when it canceled the high school prom rather than let McMillen attend with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo.

Said Kristy L. Bennett, co-counsel on McMillen’s case: "We’re pleased that the school district agreed to be held liable for violating Constance’s rights. Now Constance can move on with her life and Itawamba school officials can show the world that they have learned a lesson about equal treatment for all students. This has been about much more than just the prom all along – it’s about all of our young people deserving to be treated fairly by the schools we trust to take care of them."

Congratulations to Constance, and thank you for your courage!

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Comments

  1. Yay, Candace! Nice news to start the day.

    Posted by: Will | Jul 20, 2010 10:39:58 AM


  2. I mean, yay Constance! Sorry--hung over. Nice news!

    Posted by: Will | Jul 20, 2010 10:41:04 AM


  3. Congratulations, Ms. McMillen. Your bravery made a difference and you are a hero to many, many others (including myself!)

    Posted by: ichabod | Jul 20, 2010 10:44:13 AM


  4. Thank you Constance, you're a wonderful hero.

    Posted by: Sean Chapin | Jul 20, 2010 10:48:53 AM


  5. She is indeed, as are so many other high school kids standing up and taking on the haters. I'm lost in admiration for them.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 20, 2010 10:52:57 AM


  6. sadly Constance...the south will have to be dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming, like they did in the 20th with inter-racial marriage,and blk civil rights....you helped, but it will take another generation or 2...as the kids in your school are ALL TOO brainwashed with bigotry already.

    Posted by: Disgusted American | Jul 20, 2010 10:56:10 AM


  7. Congratulations to Constance for her bravery. Thanks once again to the ACLU for standing up for LGBT community rights.

    Posted by: Peter | Jul 20, 2010 11:15:37 AM


  8. CONGRATULATONS Constance! So happy for her.

    I heard she was in the San Diego parade this weekend. I know she's been in other parades, too. GOOD FOR HER!

    She's an inspiration, if I were her, I would rather NOT go to prom and have attend all those cities with other wonderful
    GLBT people who support her. GO CONSTANCE!

    Posted by: FunMe | Jul 20, 2010 11:28:55 AM


  9. I think this is great news; mainly for the change in discrimination policy, and Constance really cashed in...$35,000 from the school district and another $30,000 graciously from Ellen to pay for college. I wish her all the best in her studies and hope she goes on to do great things!

    Posted by: Brian in Texas | Jul 20, 2010 11:52:24 AM


  10. "Hey kids, sorry we can't go on any away games this year, or get new history books. We thought there would be more value in discrimination than your education."

    I hope she names her first baby "Justice."

    Posted by: NoSleep4Sam | Jul 20, 2010 1:35:44 PM


  11. As much as I'd like to feel happy for her, I can't help but feel jealous. High school was a living hell for me. The emotional, psychological, and physical abuse I went through almost every day was torturous, and I didn't get so much as a second glance when I dropped out because I was failing and had no faculty support. And I know people who have gone through much, much worse, some who didn't make it out on the other side...

    I know this makes me sound jaded and bitter, but of all the struggles I've had to go through, that others just like me who have gone through worse had to endure...

    Maybe I'm just hanging on for my justice to be served. I dunno. Hope she uses that money wisely, maybe towards opening a nice GSA at her former school or something. She seems like such a sweet person so, I'm sure she'll do something just like that.

    Posted by: Jesus | Jul 20, 2010 2:14:09 PM


  12. I don't think they've learned their lesson. The local media is portraying it as a payoff to make a nuisance lawsuit go away.

    http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20100720/NEWS/100720010/Itawamba-schools-settle-suit-with-lesbian-teen

    "...school district attorney Michelle Floyd issued a statement today saying the northeast Mississippi district is admitting no wrongdoing in the affair." "Floyd also said the district's insurance policy would pay the award." "'Insurance companies often pay for damages and attorney fees awards,' [ACLU attorney Christine Sun] said. 'It's part of their pattern of trying to hide the ball about what is happening.'"

    And then this:

    "As part of its agreement, the school district agreed to a policy of nondiscrimination that includes sexual orientation and 'gender identity and expression.' In her statement, Floyd said the district only agreed to 'reaffirm' its nondiscrimination policy, but the district's existing policy posted on its website does not including sexual orientation or gender identity."

    Posted by: A. Beaverhausen | Jul 20, 2010 3:12:06 PM


  13. @ A. Beverhausen - thanks for bringing that to our attention. As much as I'd like to see a victory for a brave girl who was treated quite poorly by her entire community, I think the community in question sees it as some arrogant deviant making demands. A dialouge is needed there, but I think its not going to happen anytjme soon. In the meantime, Constance handled the entirety of this awful senario with grace and dignity. Which is far far more than her detractors did. And sometimes, thats enough.

    Posted by: g_whiz | Jul 20, 2010 3:57:16 PM


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