By now you have probably heard about the Mississippi school that cancelled a prom rather than let Constance McMillen, a lesbian student, bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. She asked permission to attend as a couple, but when the school board sent out a memo declaring all dates should be of the opposite sex, the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in and … you can guess what happens next.
Lots of people, straight and gay, are outraged at the school’s actions. I’ll spare you all the protestation, since it goes without saying the school is in the wrong — oh, nevermind, I’ll tell you anyway: It cannot deny a couple their coming-of-age ritual because they’re gay. Though McMillen clearly understands the social significance of her fight — that’s why she’s suing, isn’t it? — she also seems bored explaining the situation to camera crews, exasperated that trodding on gay rights still happens in the year 2010.
Young Americans collectively yawn at the mention — among the under-30 set, about 80 per cent believe same-sex marriage is a private decision, so for McMillen and her peers, it’s silly trying to explain something that’s accepted fact.
“For you to say that you can’t bring someone of the same sex — well, for the gay people that means they can’t bring their date,” she told the Associated Press. “That’s really not fair to the people that are gay.” Like, duh.
What a world, in which a teenager makes more sense of what “constitutional rights and liberties” are than the adults charged with teaching her these things. At its core, that’s what high school is: A series of life lessons on how to be punctual, polite, committed, ambitious, thoughtful and critical adults.
That’s why McMillen sought permission from her teachers, knowing what the outcome might be even before she asked. That’s how adults deal with life, right? By talking through their differences and confronting tough situations rather than avoiding them, by, say, cancelling a prom like a socially-awkward teenager. Despite feeling guilty that she’d ruined everyone’s year-end celebration, McMillen stoicly returned to school, still proud of who she is.
She and her girlfriend are examples that courage and maturity can come at any age, and that students aren’t the only ones who should learn a thing or two in high school. Like the saying goes, out of the mouths of babes …
Canice Leung is a former editor of Ryerson University feminist magazine McClung’s, copy editor at Metro, ardent feminist and loudmouth.