Lisa Derrick has done great work detailing the fake prom incident in Mississippi. In case you haven’t been following things, a lesbian student named Constance McMillen wanted to attend her high school prom with her girlfriend, and the school decided they’d rather shut down the prom than allow that. A court ruled that this violated McMillen’s rights and came close to ordering a prom, but parents organized a “private” prom for McMillen and the other students. Except it was a fake-out. The prom McMillen attended only included seven students, including her, her girlfriends, and two disabled students. Everyone else at the high school partied at another prom at a country club.
This is just unspeakably cruel, and an insult not only to the LGBT community but to the disabled. And this has justifiably angered the civil rights and civil liberties communities.
The ACLU thinks they’ve found a solution. In a letter to supporters, they highlighted a piece of legislation that would make cruelty like this illegal:
So many people have contacted us because they are outraged by this situation and want to do something. I can tell you from my conversations with Constance that there’s nothing she wants more than for these kinds of hurtful actions to end for students all across the country.
There’s a way we can all help Constance with that goal— by demanding that Congress pass the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act would be the first comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Discrimination and harassment are an unacceptable daily reality for too many LGBT students all across the country. If outrageous experiences like the one Constance McMillen has been through are going to end, we have to respond.
What’s the Student Non-Discrimination Act? It’s a piece of legislation quietly introduced by Rep. Jared Polis in January. According to Open Congress:
Under this bill, no school program that receives public funding would be allowed to exclude children because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, be they gay, transgender or straight. Harassment based on gender or sexual orientation, defined as “conduct that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate,” would also not be allowed as a sanctioned element of a public school program. If schools discriminate or sanction harassment in their federally funded programs, federal education agencies would be given the authority to terminate their funding.
The right obviously would point to this the same way that they point to ENDA, as a restriction on bigot’s right to discriminate. But given the profile of this incident, support could easily galvanize in the country for a corrective measure.
Change.org notes that the kind of discrimination McMillen experienced is happening all over the country, and SDNA would prohibit it. They have a quote from Rep. Polis, an openly gay member of Congress:
Congressman Jared Polis took a stand earlier this year to fight for LGBT students when he introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act. “Like Title VI for minorities in the 60s and Title IX for women in the 70s,” Congressman Polis said at the time of the bill’s introduction, “my legislation puts LGBT students on an equal footing with their peers, so they can attend school and get a quality education, free from fear.”
I have a call in to Brian Branton, who handled LGBT issues for Rep. Polis, and I will let you know if I have more.