“It sets a legal precedent for gay and lesbian students all over the country that they have the right to bring a same-sex date to the prom and also to wear gender-nonconforming clothes to the prom. We were looking for a ruling that what the school did was violate her rights.”

— Christine Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender project

Mississippi student Constance McMillan’s fight to attend her high school prom dressed in a tux with a same-sex date has resulted in a big win, and a minor loss at the same time, based on a ruling by U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson. Her First Amendment rights were violated, but the school has the right to cancel the prom. (CNN):

In his 12-page order, Davidson also ruled that Itawamba Agricultural High School’s denial of 18-year-old Constance McMillen’s request to wear a tuxedo to her prom was a violation of her rights.

“The record shows Constance has been openly gay since eighth grade and she intended to communicate a message by wearing a tuxedo and to express her identity through attending prom with a same-sex date,” Davidson wrote.

“The court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment.”

Davidson denied a motion for an injunction filed by McMillen against the school district’s superintendent, the school’s principal and its assistant principal asking the court to order that the April 2 prom be reinstated, saying that parents were planning a private event to be held on that date for all students, including McMillen.

Requiring school officials “to step back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue,” he said.

In the greater scheme of things, this acknowledgment that Constance’s rights were violated — is a big signal to adults in schools administering policy based on bigotry that this no longer flies.

In places where homophobia runs deep, however, adhering to the law will not make the hate go away — it simply turns a prom into a private, discriminatory affair. McMillen is not invited to the privately organized prom. Cultural norms will change only over time as more Mississippi teens come out knowing Constance led the way with her bravery.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding