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Lesbian student sues to have prom reinstated

An 18-year-old lesbian student who wanted to take her girlfriend to her senior prom is asking a federal judge to force her Mississippi school district to reinstate the dance it cancelled rather than let the couple attend.

An 18-year-old lesbian student who wanted to take her girlfriend to her senior prom is asking a federal judge to force her Mississippi school district to reinstate the dance it cancelled rather than let the couple attend.

Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., wanted to bring a same-sex date and wear a tuxedo to her high school prom before the event was cancelled. ((Matthew Sharpe/Associated Press))
The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi on Thursday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Oxford on behalf of 18-year-old Constance McMillen, who said she faced some unhappy classmates after the Itawamba County School District said it wouldn't host the April 2 prom.

"Somebody said, 'Thanks for ruining my senior year."' McMillen said of her reluctant return Thursday to Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton.

The lawsuit seeks a court order for the school to hold the prom. It also asks that McMillen be allowed to escort her girlfriend, who also is a student at the school, and wear a tuxedo.

The case is similar to that of one in Canada in 2002, when a gay student sued his Catholic school district in Oshawa, Ont., to allow him to attend a prom with his boyfriend.

A judge later forced the district to allow Marc Hall and his date to attend and stopped the district from cancelling the prom.

The Mississippi district's decision Wednesday came after the ACLU demanded that officials change a policy banning same-sex prom dates because it said it violated students' rights. The ACLU said the district violated McMillen's free expression rights by not letting her wear a tuxedo.

McMillen said she never expected the district to respond the way it did.

"A lot of people said that was going to happen, but I said, they had already spent too much money on the prom," to cancel it, she said.

McMillen said she didn't want to go back to Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Fulton the morning after the decision, but her father told her she needed to face her classmates.

"My daddy told me that I needed to show them that I'm still proud of who I am," McMillen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The fact that this will help people later on, that's what's helping me to go on."

Board cites 'distractions' in closing prom

The school board statement said it wouldn't host the event "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events" but didn't mention McMillen. District officials didn't return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Same-sex prom dates and cross-dressing are new issues for many high schools around the country, said Daryl Presgraves, a spokesman for GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, a Washington-based advocacy group.

"A lot of schools actually react rather than do the research and find out what the rights of these students are," said Presgraves.

U.S. Representative Jared Polis, D-Colo., said a bill he's introduced in Congress would make it illegal to discriminate against gay and lesbian school students. He said at least 10 states have such laws, and his bill is modeled after those.

"This situation with the prom is a perfect example of why we need to protect students from discrimination. In this case it's a prom. In other cases, it's getting beaten up or killed," Polis said.

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