Friday, March 12, 2010

Prom Tolerance and the Changing of Hearts and Minds



News that the Itawamba County Mississippi school board would cancel its upcoming prom rather than allow a gay student, Constance McMillen, to bring her same sex date to the event was a disturbing but necessary reminder of just how hostile much of the nation to the 'full acceptance' of LGBT people, and that includes students.

Perhaps the school system's decision is based in fear rooted in flawed and prejudiced assumptions, that by allowing a teenager to bring her same sex date to such a traditional event as the prom, the powers that be may appear to be condoning gayness to the local masses. More likely,moral concerns extending from literal interpretations of scripture, verses located on the same pages where one finds instructions for the stoning of adulterers and punishments for wearing certain types of textiles. But then again, the Mississippi prom case is more likely just another piece of fallout from a very commonly held membership in a society where there is a quiet tolerance of homophobia which is nothing more than a phobia of homosexuality itself.

It's easy to draw comparisons to this incident and a 1994 case involving a student in the little east Alabama town of Wedowee. In February of that year, the principal of Randolph County High School called the student body, then around 60% white and 40% black, to an assembly, where he asked the group how many juniors and seniors planned to attend the prom with 'dates' as he put it, "outside their race?" To his, and perhaps many northern readers who later read details of this tale surprise, several students did in fact raise their hands. Reportedly, the principal, a white man named Hulond Humphries, promptly cancelled the prom, asking, "how would that look at a prom, a bunch of mixed race couples?"

Most would probably agree, that no matter how you phrase it, spin it or frame it, at the root of the Wedowee principal's prom decision in 1994, was phobia, a phobia of African American students mixing with whites, and that phobia, still held by many in America, is most likely rooted in racism of one form or another.

But, back to present day Mississippi. There is no denying the bravery of this young student who with help from the ACLU is standing up to authority. It is a shame, that the majority of students who are most likely heterosexual are upset about seeing their big night get spoiled. Like the 1994 Wedowee principal, Itawamba County officials had rather cancel the event, than run the risk of 'appearing unsavory' after all, how would it look if their are lesbians at the prom? Worth mentioning, for those LGBT leaders in bastions of tolerance, far from places like rural Mississippi, the hope is they will not only take notice of this young girl's brave actions, but, instill the support of all watching this little drama unfold. Because, in truth, its those drama's that unfold daily in the smaller places of America's heartland, where hearts and minds are changed, ever so slowly, but oh so often, surely. You see that kind of change in places like Ashburn Georgia, a small town 160 miles south of Atlanta, that held its first integrated black and white together prom in 2007, yes, that' just two years ago. Guess who voted for the change from 'Jim Crow" appearing segregation to modern day integration, the majority of the student body, all 212 of them. One hopes too, that despite old thought principals or school boards caught up in society's prejudices, moral conflicts or hang-ups based in misinterpretation or hate, that students like Constance McMillen, will someday have the support of her student body, and that they too, will vote for an integrated prom along the same lines as those kids in Georgia but perhaps, these kids will go a bit further on the tolerance trail, a place where black, white, straight, gay or whatever well behaved junior or senior from that school gains admission to the prom and dances the night away with his or her date, regardless of whether that date is a boy or a girl.

No comments: