When the news about a girl in Mississippi requesting to take her girlfriend to the prom started coming through my RSS reader, I made note. I thought, good for her, being brave and standing up and not feeling ashamed for who she is and what kind of rites of passage she is or isn't allowed to take part in because of her sexual orientation.
If you don't know the backstory, my understanding is thus: around December, Constance McMillen asked her school's administration if she could take her girlfriend to the prom. She is a high school senior and out as a lesbian. Her principal said, in short, no way. A few months later, in February, after she and her girlfriend had decided to go to the prom separately, Constance asked if she could wear a tuxedo to the prom, which is how she would feel more comfortable. Again, the administration told her no, and said in fact that if she danced with her girlfriend or made the other students "uncomfortable," they would both be forced to leave.
Constance, being a kick-ass activist, called the ACLU. The ACLU threatened the school, and the school, in response, canceled the prom, and students began blaming Constance for their prom being canceled. I read one editorial which said that since it was a public school, the cancellation of the prom enabled parents to host their own private "straight only" prom, which apparently is how a lot of the discriminatory proms get held for public schools.
To be honest, I know very little about the culture of the South. It's fascinating, on one hand, but on the other I assume that people must be glorifying the discrimination for affect. But what do I know? I've never lived there. And in fact I grew up practically as far from the southern US as one can get and still live in the US, in Alaska. My knowledge of the South is kind of skewed. I mean to me, Texas isn't part of the South, and especially not the Southwest, but just Texas. (Apparently Texans feel otherwise.)
When I saw the news break about Constance's prom battle, I shook my head, sighed, but didn't think much of it. I didn't rush to cmd+T another tab and open up my Wordpress dashboard to make an angry call to action for my blog readers. I didn't take up the cause. I didn't feel moved to action myself.
And let me tell you why.
It isn't because she wasn't wronged—she was. And being vocal about the ways that she was wronged is important. But I heard about it because it made national news, and therefore I knew that this would continue to make news in major sources, and I had nothing new to add to the coverage. I didn't have a personal little lesbian prom story to add, I didn't have much to add aside from "hell yeah" and generic support. Not that that isn't important. I just figured I wasn't a necessary news source on this particular issue. Can't do everything, ya know (or at least that's what people keep telling me).
I've been thinking about this prom issue frequently this week. "Why so much outrage?" Kristen and I were saying to each other last night. "What about when a queer youth is murdered, there's not this much of a call to action in the media!"
No, but there's not a clear system or group of people to blame for the young queer's victimization, either. In this case, there clearly is: the Superintendent Teresa McNeece and Principal Trae Wiygul, as well as the school board. Consider sending them a little note, will you?
Superintendent Teresa McNeece: email@example.com, phone (662) 862-2159 Ext. 14, fax (662) 862-4713
Principal Trae Wiygul: firstname.lastname@example.org & (662) 862-3104
School Board Member Eddie Hood: email@example.com
School Board Member Jackie Nichols: firstname.lastname@example.org
School Board Member Harold Martin: email@example.com
School Board Member Clara Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org
School Board Member Tony Wallace: email@example.com
Prom is an easy, polite, youthful, appropriate, PG-rated activity for eighteen-year-olds everywhere, and it's easy to get behind this issue. We can all think back to our own proms and remember that magical night of our young life, remember the anticipation of our date, remember what we did. It was a rite of passage, a symbol, a measure of our growing up. So it's easy to superimpose that experience on to other young queers who want to participate and may be denied because of their orientation.
It doesn't hurt that Constance is so sweet. She doesn't come across as an activist so much as just a girl who wants to bring the person she's dating to the prom. She hasn't, from what I've seen, made any big statements about equality or activism or gender identity as related to wearing a tuxedo or sexual orientation being an invalid form of discrimination. I saw her on the Ellen DeGeneres Show from this past Friday, and she comes across as shy and sweet, without so much as an ounce of shame for who she is. I hope all of the things that queer activists for the past fifty-plus years have done have paved the way for her to continue to feel like this is a totally reasonable thing for her to want to participate in.
As a side note, I'm really glad Ellen is covering things like this. It's taken her a long time to openly talk about gay issues on her show, and I'm really glad she's doing so. And that nice little check for Constance's college education that she presented to her on the show? So. Sweet. I love sappy TV like that.
Sometimes I don't even know how to wrap my head around the superintendent and school board's logic. Do they really think they are right? I'm so confused. It's just so obvious that it is blatant discrimination. And queers attending the prom are very common! Queer Eye Candy used to feature prom photos frequently, and Autostraddle started an adorable lesbian prom gallery after the news about Constance broke. It may be common, but, as my friends remind me, it may not be quite so common in Mississippi.
Apparently Constance is currently in court, as of this writing, attempting to get the school to put the prom back on. I'll keep an eye on that news and send big brother queer love her way.
Meanwhile, make a tax-deductible donation to support Constance's ACLU LGBT Project team. And my buddy Jesse James made some pretty badass shirts, featuring her famous little statement, "prom is so gay." Order one from Cafepress.com/jljj. I ordered mine in black with pink letters, and I am looking forward to modeling it as soon as it arrives.
Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival is serious literature for ridiculous times by freaks, jokesters, and other outlaws is the 2nd Tuesdays of the month at Sapphire Lounge in New York City, co-hosted by Cheryl B. and Sinclair Sexsmith. Premiere launch party on April 13th, link for details.