A Tux. A Corsage. A Lesbian Prom?

A young lesbian wants to wear a tux and take her girlfriend to the prom—should this really make the news in 2010? Schools in many places throughout the country remain a fierce cultural battleground for LGBTQ students who are struggling for the right to be themselves.

Itawamba County in Mississippi is no exception. School officials there are apparently so terrified that the fabric of society will disintegrate if two lesbians attend the prom together that they decided last week to cancel the prom for all students.

Constance McMillen just wanted to enjoy prom night like any other student. She wanted to get dressed up and take her girlfriend to the most important dance of the high school social season. But school officials told her she could not escort her girlfriend to the prom, and that she would be thrown out of the dance if students complained.

Frustrated with what she knew was blatant discrimination, McMillen sought the assistance of the ACLU of Mississippi. The ACLU wrote a letter to the school district on her behalf, explaining that by excluding Ms. McMillen and her date and informing her that only male students could wear tuxedos, it was violating her  First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

Instead of taking the ACLU’s Constitutional argument seriously and doing the equitable thing, the school district cancelled the prom.

Perhaps it’s not that surprising that a Mississippi school would be so hardheaded; just two years ago, actor Morgan Freeman paid for the first-ever integrated prom at Charleston High School in the state, which led some white parents to refuse to let their children attend and became the subject of the documentary film Prom Night in Mississippi.

On March 11, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi asking the court to order the reinstatement of the prom for all students, including McMillen and her girlfriend.  But the school district has thus far shown no signs of backing down and the April 2nd prom remains canceled.

The good news here is that there has been a tremendous outpouring of support nationwide for McMillen and her brave stand against intolerance. Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, Project Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, explains:

“The high school prom is a rite of passage for many young people and Constance has the right to participate in this important event. We will not rest until ALL students have safe and equitable school systems free from discrimination.”

Celebrities and ordinary citizens alike have pledged support to ensure that McMillen and her classmates can have their prom. Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, a youth-led organization, offers an alternative prom so that all students, including LGBTQ students, can still have their special night. 

Isn’t it about time we recognize the rights of women to wear what they want and dance with the one they choose?

UPDATE: McMillen won her case! Here’s an update from the ACLU:

“Constance’s school agreed to create a policy protecting students from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, pay Constance $35,000, pay her attorneys’ fees in the amount of $67,265.50 and $14,400 in expenses, and have the court enter a judgment against the school.”

Read more coverage of LGBTQ+ issues from Ms


Justine Andronici is a feminist lawyer, advocate, activist and analyst who has been working in the women's rights arena for more than 20 years. She specializes in domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment and women's rights law and politics. She lives, works and writes from her home base in rural Central Pennsylvania. Connect with Justine on twitter at BendingtowardJustice @justineandronic