Civil Rights

ACLU Sues School District that Canceled Prom Over Lesbian Student's Date Request

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against a Mississippi high school that canceled its prom after a lesbian student told school officials she wanted to take her girlfriend as her date and wear a tuxedo.

Senior Constance McMillen asked officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., last month about whether she could attend prom with her girlfriend, because she knew same-sex dates had been banned in the past, the ACLU said in a press release. She said the assistant principal and superintendent told her that she and her date could not arrive together, that she could not wear a tuxedo, and that if she and her girlfriend’s presence made any other students “uncomfortable,” they would be kicked out of the dance. A memo (PDF) was subsequently sent around stipulating dates must be of the opposite sex.

McMillen contacted the ACLU, which sent a letter (PDF) demanding that the Itawamba County School District give McMillen permission to attend prom with her date in a tuxedo no later than March 10. The school board canceled the prom that day, citing “distractions to the educational process caused by recent events” in a statement (PDF). School officials did not respond to calls by the Clarion-Ledger for comment.

Today, the ACLU filed a complaint (PDF) in the Northern District of Mississippi.

“We believe the law is pretty clear,” said Christine Sun, the ACLU’s senior attorney for its gay rights project told the Clarion-Ledger. “The school just can’t arbitrarily say you have to be an opposite [sex] date to [go to] the prom.”

Even before the complaint was filed, Orlando, Fla.-based religious rights law firm Liberty Counsel offered the school district free legal services, although the district has not responded to the offer, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

Liberty Counsel attorney Stephen Crampton said that Mississippi has anti-sodomy laws on the books and that “the district might be motivated by a desire to prevent the ultimate conduct that is presumptively illegal in this state.” The 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Lawrence v. Texas struck down a sodomy statute in Texas and ruled that similar statutes are unconstitutional.

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