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Victory for Constance McMillen!

James Esseks,
Director, LGBTQ & HIV Project,
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July 20, 2010

Back in March, we sued the public high school in Fulton, Mississippi, for canceling the school prom rather than allow Constance McMillen to attend with her girlfriend and to wear a tuxedo. You may remember that school officials then invited her to a “prom” that only Constance and a handful of students attended while the rest of her class partied at a secret prom several miles away. Quite a reminder of how cruel kids, and school officials, can be.

After getting an initial ruling from the federal judge that the school district had violated Constance’s free speech rights, we pressed ahead with the lawsuit. And yesterday, the school agreed to have judgment entered against it. This isn’t just a settlement, it means that the district is held liable for violating Constance’s rights — in other words: they caved.

The school will adopt a comprehensive nondiscrimination and nonharassment policy that covers sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, which is the first such policy in any public school in Mississippi. And they’ll pay Constance $35,000 in damages (more than the median annual household income in Fulton, Miss.) and cover her attorneys’ fees. All in all, a great resolution both for Constance and for LGBT youth in Mississippi.

Constance’s courage in standing up for herself has brought her story to kids and policymakers literally around the world. She’s explained what happened to her on national news programs, talk shows, and radio spots; the Facebook page we set up for her attracted over 400,000 supporters; she’s lobbied members of Congress and urged others to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act; and she’s talked about student safety issues with President Obama in the White House. And she’s been to a whole lot of proms! Through all of it, she’s focused on using her experience to help bring attention to the problem of discrimination against LGBT youth.

We couldn’t have asked for a better ambassador for LGBT youth than Constance. We’re glad that we’ve resolved her lawsuit. We can’t wait to see what she does next.

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