The past year has seen an unprecedented wave of media attention regarding the overwhelming levels of discrimination that many LGBTQ youth experience from their family, peers, schools and communities. In particular, the story of Constance McMillen, captured the hearts of millions of people around the world.
Like most teens entering into their final year of high school, Constance McMillen looked forward to her prom with great anticipation. All of that changed when the Mississippi lesbian-identified teen was launched into the international spotlight following her school district’s decision to cancel prom rather than granting her permission to wear a tuxedo and bring her same sex partner to the prom. The decision came just one week after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a free speech case on behalf of McMillen. On March 23, 2010, U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favour of McMillen, affirming that McMillen’s First Amendment rights were violated when she was prohibited from both attending prom with her girlfriend and wearing a tuxedo to the prom.
The case captured worldwide media attention as Constance McMillen became known as an eloquent, outspoken and courageous champion of LGBTQ rights. While she was warmly received on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Wanda Skyes Show, and CBC’s Q, McMillen’s sense of social justice was far from celebrated in her hometown. Indeed, McMillen’s victory and notoriety came at the price of social ostracism and alienation from her peers and hometown community. All but five students refused to attend the private prom in which Constance and her girlfriend were invited to attend, opting instead to attend a ‘secret prom’ organized by parents in her community.
As an agency dedicated raising awareness and strategies to eliminate homophobia, the Constance McMillen story represents an opportunity to both celebrate and reflect on the important role that agencies such as SWOVA play as educators and advocates for youth.
It is on behalf of Constance and the millions of LGBTQ teens around the world that we must continue to address and eliminate homophobia in our schools and communities.
By Nicola Temmel – Summer Student at SWOVA