Tam High School in Mill Valley has extended a prom invitation to Constance McMillan and her longtime girlfriend after McMillan's school district cancelled over the teens plans to attend the function in a tuxedo.
District officials said they felt not hosting the prom was the best decision "after taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of our students." Superintendent Teresa McNeece said it was "a no-win situation."
U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled Tuesday that Itawamba County school district's actions but refused the American Civil Liberties Union's demand to force the district to put on the April 2 prom. Davidson said he would hold a trial on the issue.
"At this point, I'm hoping that she'll agree to come," Sarah Schwartz, a Tam High senior, told the Marin Independent Journal. "But even if she doesn't, I feel there's been a wonderful effort by this community and a statement that we're willing to stand behind her bravery, and accept her for who she is."
The school has not yet received a reply from McMillan regarding whether she will attend.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the district to force it to put on the prom and allow McMillen to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. School officials said in U.S. District Court this week that they decided to cancel it because McMillen's challenge to the rules had caused disruptions.
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McMillen first approached school officials about bringing her girlfriend in December, and again in February. Same-sex prom dates had been banned in the past, but she had hoped school officials would grant her request.
"I thought maybe the policy had been in place for a different reason," McMillen testified at a hearing on the ACLU lawsuit. "I wanted to let them know how it made me feel. I felt like I couldn't go to the prom."
She was told two girls couldn't attend together and she wouldn't be allowed to wear a tuxedo, court documents show. The ACLU issued a demand letter earlier this month and the district responded by canceling the event. McMillen, who lives with her grandmother and has a 3.8 grade point average, has kept her 16-year-old girlfriend out of the spotlight at the request of the girl's parents.
The 715-student high school is located in Fulton, a town of about 4,000 in rural, north Mississippi. The entire county school district has 3,588 students.
The case is typical of what's happening in schools across the country, said Charles Haynes, senior scholar for The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center.
"This case is different because this is not just dress, it is a higher claim of personal identity," Haynes said. "I think that if the student prevails in this case, it will send a message to school districts that they need to accommodate students now who are openly gay and lesbian and want to participate in student activities," Haynes said.