Commentary 19 Mar 2010 06:35 am

Backward and loving it in Itawamba County

Here is my print column, dated March 18, 2010:

Fifty-plus years ago, intolerant Southerners would lynch those who offended their genteel sense of superiority, propriety and manners.

Today, the same kind of intolerant people simply cancel proms instead.

That’s progress, I guess.

The actions of an Itawamba County, Miss., school board to keep a female student from bringing a same-sex date and wearing a tuxedo to prom has the air of desperation, a last-gasp attempt to defend a supposed bastion of morality that has long since given way to understanding and, dare I say it, acceptance.

But of course, the board didn’t cancel the prom because of Constance McMillen, at least not on paper. It canceled “due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events.” Said recent events being McMillen’s bucking of a school policy that requires dates to be opposite sex, and the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting what it sees as discrimination.

Maybe what the board hoped was that fellow students would make McMillen’s life so miserable that she would back off. Instead, with the help of the ACLU, she’s filed a lawsuit demanding that the prom be reinstated. Instead of marginalizing her, it has entrenched her.

A persistent rumor is that citizens in little ol’ Fulton will host a private prom and simply not invite McMillen, doing an end-run around the gay girl with the temerity to want everything that straight students are entitled to.

If this were a movie, it would play out like this: Students would make snarky comments to McMillen in the halls and lunchroom, further ostracizing her; the town fathers would organize a private soiree in the back of some dingy bowling alley or American Legion hall; and then right before students filed in, somebody would make an inspirational speech about supporting their classmate, and they would all go dance on McMillen’s front lawn. Cue the up-tempo music and fade to black.

Life is not a movie, as the absence of a soundtrack by Kenny Loggins in this recent turn of events demonstrates. Nevertheless, this discriminatory cloud still has a silver lining: a groundswell of support for McMillen from people around the country who realize that the sexual and clothing preference of one high school senior is hardly worth canceling a dance over.

An enterprising businessman in New Orleans has even offered to bus all students — including McMillen and her date — to his hotel and host the prom on his dime. A Facebook page demanding that the Itawamba school board rethink its stance has attracted thousands of members.

What McMillen deserves, of course, is what every student in her school deserves: A high school prom where they can dance and laugh and be together, not one that requires judicial mandate or out-of-state bussing, all because some people still believe, apparently, that homosexuality is contagious, and that a self-contradicting book where every “eye for an eye” has a corresponding “turn the other cheek” is enough divine evidence to support discrimination.

Get real. McMillen has a right to go to her prom. Later in life, she has a right to get married, have kids or adopt them, join the PTA, and live wherever she wants.

She even has a right to run for the Itawamba County school board, where she could fight injustice and help ensure that students’ rights aren’t curtailed by a board that wistfully remembers the good old days when problems could be lynched away quietly in the night.

One Response to “Backward and loving it in Itawamba County”

  1. on 02 Apr 2010 at 1.Betsy K. said …

    Kudos, Chris, for stateing the obvious here. I felt like I was back in time, like the 70’s when I read about her prom problem. She surely DOES deserve her high school prom, being a lesbian has nothing to do with it. Sadly so many of the southern states still seem to live in the past and are unwilling to let go of their lame stereotypes.

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