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Schools should not exclude gays from functions

High school prom is usually a time for big frilly dresses, nice tuxedos and corsages. But for 18-year-old Constance McMillen and the rest of her graduating class, there will be no prom.

The reason? McMillen’s date is her girlfriend.

McMillen, a senior at Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., was told she could not attend her high school prom because she requested to bring her girlfriend as her date and wear a tuxedo. Rather than let the two attend, the school has decided to cancel the event, scheduled for Friday.

According to CNN, the school sent a memo to students informing them of appropriate prom attire and that all dates must be of the opposite sex. This prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit.

Yet, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In Benzonia, Mich., bisexual student Marie Hood wanted to invite her girlfriend to homecoming but was denied. Apparently, the principal was trying to “limit” the number of outside guests coming to school dances, according to the Record-Eagle, a Michigan newspaper.

Opposition to a lifestyle choice – whether fear of exposure or religious beliefs – is no grounds for limiting an 18-year-old from attending one of the best moments in a high school career.

The school should have asked the other students attending how they felt. After all, they are hurt by the decision, too. Once that question was answered, a decision should have been made.

Unlike McMillen, some gay teens have had success.

Senior Derrick Martin at Bleckley County High School in Cochran, Ga., will attend prom with his boyfriend. At first the principal was wary to allow it, but school officials had no formal rule for same-sex dates.

McMillen’s case was taken to trial on the basis of discrimination because of her sexual orientation. However, the judge ruled in favor of Itawamba County School District, saying that while the school violated her rights, the case was not enough to serve the public interest.

The judge’s ruling brings another blow to the gay community. For McMillen, dealing with this ruling while still in high school will only bring her pain.

McMillen will face other challenges in her life as a lesbian, but not going to her senior prom shouldn’t be one of them. Teenagers – whether they’re transgendered, homosexual or bisexual – should be able to attend any school event with their peers. It’s a matter of equality.

Instead of trying to shelter teens from the topic, parents should take situations like this and present them as lessons in the danger of discrimination.

Naomi Prioleau is a junior majoring in mass communications.