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OXFORD, MS – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against a Mississippi High School that has canceled prom rather than let a lesbian high school student attend the prom with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo to the event. In papers filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students at the school and charges Itawamba County School District officials are violating Constance McMillen’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
“All I wanted was the same chance to enjoy my prom night like any other student. But my school would rather hurt all the students than treat everyone fairly,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. “This isn’t just about me and my rights anymore – now I’m fighting for the right of all the students at my school to have our prom.”
Today’s filing comes after Itawamba County School District issued a statement yesterday saying they were canceling prom, following a letter from the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanding that they reverse their decision. McMillen said that before that happened, school officials had told her that she could not arrive at the prom with her girlfriend, also a student at IAHS, and that they might be thrown out if any other students complained about their presence at the April 2 event.
“Itawamba school officials are trying to turn Constance into the villain who called the whole thing off, and that just isn’t what happened. She’s fighting for everyone to be able to enjoy the prom,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “The government, and that includes public schools, can’t censor someone’s free expression just because some other person might not like it.”
In today’s legal complaint, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students and charges that the First Amendment guarantees students’ right to bring same-sex dates to school dances and cites cases holding that other parties’ objections don’t justify censorship. The ACLU also said that the school further violates McMillen’s free expression rights by telling her that she can’t wear a tuxedo to the prom.
“It’s shameful and cowardly of the school district to have canceled the prom and to try to blame Constance, who’s only standing up for herself. We will fight tooth and nail for the prom to be reinstated for all students,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi.
The ACLU will ask the court in the next few days to grant McMillen a preliminary injunction ordering the school to reinstate the April 2 prom, let McMillen and her girlfriend go to the prom together, and let McMillen wear a tuxedo to the event.
McMillen is represented by Bennett and Sun, as well as by Norman C. Simon and Joshua Glick of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.
The case name is Constance McMillen v. Itawamba County School District, et al. Also named as defendants are Superintendent Teresa McNeece and Itawamba Agricultural High School Principal Trae Wiygul and Vice Principal Rick Mitchell. Additional information, including a copy of today’s legal complaint, is available at https://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/fulton-ms-prom-discrimination. There is also a Facebook group for people who want to support McMillen, “Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom,” at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Let-Constance-Take-Her-Girlfriend-to-Prom/357686784817.