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|Posted: 2010-04-08 12:47 am||
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JACKSON, Miss.— Senior prom fell far short of the rite of passage Constance McMillen was hoping for when she began a legal battle to challenge a ban on same-sex dates.
The 18-year-old lesbian student said Tuesday she was one of only seven students to show up at a private event chaperoned by school officials last Friday night. She said the rest of her peers went to another private event where she wasn't invited.
"It was not the prom I imagined," she said Tuesday. "It really hurts my feelings. These are still people who I've gone through school with, even teachers who loved me before this all started. I've never been a bad student and I don't feel like I deserve to be put through this."
Her case drew a national spotlight after she and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged an Itawamba County School District rule that banned same-sex prom dates and a requirement that only male students wear tuxedos.
The ACLU sent a demand letter to Superintendent Teresa McNeece in February, saying the rules against same-sex prom dates and girls wearing tuxedos violated McMillen's constitutional rights. The district responded by withdrawing its sponsorship and canceling the April 2 event.
In an apparent compromise, school district officials said parents would organize a private event with school chaperones that McMillen could attend, tuxedo and all.
McMillen didn't take her girlfriend because the girl's parents wouldn't let her go to the event. McMillen escorted another female instead. She did, however, wear a black tuxedo with a blue green vest.
But when she, her date and a friend showed up at Fulton Country Club, only four other people were there. She left after half an hour.
McMillen said she knew there was another event in the works and she has seen several pictures from the party on Facebook.
"When I found out that there was another prom, I called and asked if I was invited and (a student) told me the prom was at the country club so I took that as a 'no,'" McMillen said.
It's unclear who organized the other dance, said Kristy Bennett, ACLU Mississippi legal director. School officials and many of the locals won't talk about it.
Bennett said "we're investigating if the prom at the country club was a sham or a decoy." But Bennett said she doesn't know if there are any legal ramifications because the majority of students chose to go to an event that didn't include McMillen.
"It's evidence that what (school officials) represented to the judge didn't happen," Bennett said.
Michele Floyd, the school board attorney, and McNeece didn't return messages left on Tuesday. People who answered the phone at several businesses in Fulton, a town of about 4,000, declined to comment about the issue.
Ellen Kahn, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group, said the organization began an online petition Tuesday to gather signatures to protest McMillen's treatment. Kahn said the names will be presented to the teen and the school district, along with a comprehensive guide on tolerance in schools.
"The part of this story that's hardest to handle is that adults were very much in control of making this decision and supporting this decision," said Kahn, referring to the dual proms.
McMillen's voice cracked as she talked about how her school life had changed, but she said if given a choice, she would have taken the same route.
"There are a lot of people that go through this every day and now they won't have to go through this," she said.