By Chris Joyner
ABERDEEN, Miss. — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Itawamba County, Miss., school board violated the rights of a lesbian student by canceling the prom when the student challenged a ban on same-sex dates, but the judge stopped short of ordering the district to reinstate the April 2 prom.
U.S. District Court Judge Glen Davidson said he denied the injunction request because a private prom parents are planning will serve the same purpose as the school prom and because "requiring defendants to step back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue."
NIXED PROM: Lesbian gets day in court
Constance McMillen, 18, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Itawamba County school district when she was denied her request to bring her girlfriend, a sophomore, to the dance and to wear a tuxedo.
McMillen said she was saddened that the judge did not reinstate the school-sponsored prom, but she understood his reasoning since the private prom is scheduled for the same day in Tupelo.
"It would be hard for him to move it," she said. "A lot of people would be inconvenienced."
Davidson ruled the school board violated McMillen's rights. "The Court finds this expression and communication of her viewpoint is the type of speech that falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment," Davidson wrote in his opinion.
Davidson said he will hold a trial on the issue later, but he did not set a date.
Parents of students at the Fulton, Miss., high school are organizing the private prom, and school officials testified all junior and senior students would be allowed to attend. It wasn't clear from the testimony whether gay couples would be welcome.
Another prom is being organized by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, an advocacy group for gay and lesbian students.
McMillen said she is considering attending the private prom, once she knows a little more about it. "If I feel like I will be welcome to go, I want to go," she said.
ACLU Mississippi legal director Kristy Bennett called Tuesday's ruling a victory.
"This ruling clearly tells school districts there is a First Amendment right to bring same-sex dates to the prom," Bennett said.
Bennett said she is preparing to take the case to trial. McMillen has asked the judge to declare the board's actions unconstitutional and award her $1 in damages plus court costs.
Benjamin Griffith, an attorney representing the Itawamba County School District, said he was pleased Davidson did not overrule the school board's March 10 decision canceling the dance.
District officials said in court papers they felt not hosting the prom was the best decision "after taking into consideration the education, safety and well-being of our students." About 715 students attend the high school in the town of 4,000 in rural northern Mississippi.
Well this is good. Here's hoping the private prom isn't another bigoted mess.