Sunday, March 21, 2010

British Op-Ed Gets It Right On Gay Prom Flap

You didn't need to read a blog focused on glbt issues to follow what was going on with Constance McMillen (above).

McMillen, a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi, sought to bring her girlfriend, a sophomore at the same school, to her senior prom.

In a nutshell....she asked the school in advance...the school said no, the prom was for same-sex couples only...the ACLU was brought in and a lawsuit began...the school cancelled the prom and urged parents to hold a private affair, which they are doing. McMillen and her date are not welcome at the private party.

Ellen DeGeneres stepped in and, to her credit, donated $30,000 to McMillen's scholarship fund.

A relatively quick search of the internet will reveal just how much anti-gay hatred remains in America.

What I wanted to focus on here is the way that such backwards attitudes are perceivd in other Western countries.

Elle Gray has written a terrific piece in Great Britain's Guardian titled, "School proms uphold straight privilege."

It should be noted that Gray is a black woman, who knows her Mississippi history. She writes:

The region in which this story is unfolding adds another contextual layer. According to an ACLU attorney, student complaints against "anti-gay" prom policies are especially prevalent in the US South, home of "more conservative" attitudes towards sexuality. In Mississippi, just last autumn, another school refused to publish a yearbook picture of a lesbian student in a tuxedo. The South is also home to conservative attitudes towards race; McMillen's situation is akin to that of other Mississippi students who find themselves confronting segregated proms well into the 21st century.

Those more conservative attitudes are rooted in a southern fascination with its past, a mythical "Old South" in which people who were not straight, white, and propertied had no social place. Many southerners have held tenaciously to this view, mounting resistance to challenges to the status quo. High schools in the South are often places in which these battles are fought on a small scale. After a court order forced my rural high school to desegregate in 1970, it would eventually hold off-campus proms. However, "tradition" meant that students did not intermingle across the colour line and quickly left to gather for their own separate (in terms of race) functions.
She adds:

The school district's response to McMillen's request indicated their intent to fall back on old southern practices: "It is our hope," they wrote, "that private citizens will organise an event for juniors and seniors." The prom cancellation is reminiscent of tactics from at least a half-century ago: rather than integrate public pools, parks, and schools, southern municipalities often closed them. Sometimes, in lieu of closure, they turned over such accommodations to private enterprises. In defiance of school integration orders, they opened private schools and segregation academies. Such acts allowed them to continue de facto segregation long after de jure segregation was outlawed.
The entire excellent column can be accessed here.

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