Pam Spaulding

Q of the day: should Constance leave Fulton and never look back, or return to effect change?

Filed By Pam Spaulding | April 07, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Constance McMillen, Itawamba Agricultural High School, Mississippi

Itawamba Agricultural High School student Constance McMillen is a hero. She's paid a tremendous cost at the age of 18, no less, for standing up to the bigotry in her hometown over this debacle of attending the school prom with her girlfriend.

How many of our professional gays have put themselves on the line for equality like this? Not to take away from the work orgs do, but it's acts like Constance's that show how one individual can expose and challenge ignorance and fear. The average gay person living in flyover country is bolstered by courageous efforts to simply be treated equally in a hostile environment. It's a sobering thought that she stood up to fight against an ENTIRE TOWN. No one stepped in to tell her about the fake prom, not even any of her peers. That's immense peer pressure to avoid any support of TEH GAY at any cost in Fulton, Mississippi.

She lost, but she actually won - respect and support from around the country, as well as legal help from the ACLU. She didn't back down or hide.

Given Constance's sacrifice, one has to ask an obvious question -- when it comes time to go to college, it's pretty clear she will need to leave the state to be able to experience social acceptance and support. Do you think she should return to her hometown one day, after she's been away for a good long time, to effect change, or leave it as the bigoted sh*thole, stuck back in time? Yes or no and explain why.

More evil in Fulton, from Firedoglake's Lisa Derrick @ LaFiga; the proud homophobic students grin at how they pulled off their straights-only prom with photos posted on public FB and Flickr pages.

I can see some of the same dresses in these pictures posted by different students.
Just a reminder to the non-white kids who went to this event: Forty-five years ago, in Birmingham, Alabama the same stunt got pulled on a black girl. Think about civil rights for moment.
And if that's not fucked up enough, now there's a FB group called Constance, Quit Yer Cryin
Okay. My work here is done.
these pics from two different FB pages. Hmmmm....guess there was a prom after all. Constance and seven others were not invited.

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I'd move outa there faster than a Derby winner. And on my way out, I'd stop at the city limits and take a whiz all over their "welcome to Fulton" sign.

Now, having said that, since the school system's administrator's email and phone were published all over the web yesterday, I wonder if we'll see them all suddenly backtrack, now that they know that we know that they know that we know.

Constance took a stand. Her efforts will help change the cultural conversation.

There is no way (yet) to tell how much support her actions have created, but it's certainly more than the "professional gays" (your words) have accomplished.

Real, human stories are much better than publicity-seeking activists that want to get attention with complaining, instead of changing minds with sincere explaining.

She should leave. Bigotry is dying with the old folks in Fulton. Religion continues to lose influence. Fulton will be marginalized. These people with bigoted beliefs are the minority now.

If the homophobia wasn't enough, those dress designs alone would have me fleeing from the county at top speed.

As people used to say about the place where I spent part of my high school years, the best part of town was the road leading out of it.

Most of these people will never change, not for at least a generation or two. It's interesting that they had a small number of black students at the prom, notwithstanding their utter ignorance of a similar stunt pulled on a black student in Birmingham, AL in the 60s; I guess it just means they found another lower caste to pick on.

The fact that they would pull this stunt not only on Constance but on two students with learning disabilities shows that their homophobia is part of something far deeper, sicker and more vicious. Nina Simone was definitely on to something.

I think the best bet for Constance would be to make "Get the fuck out of Fulton" the new "Get the hell out of Dodge" and go make something of herself that her sub-moronic classmates can never dream of in their pathetic, small-town minds. A lot of those students will probably never get out of Fulton, and what's more, they now have an entire Facebook page proudly showcasing their vile prank and even viler fashion sense for all the human resources and college admissions world to see.

I think at 18-years old Constance needs to make life decisions that are about her academic, professional, familial and social success first and foremost. If those decisions lead her back to Fulton, then I hope her presence there will provide opportunities for a community to continue to grow and evolve.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with AndrewW when he says, "Religion continues to lose influence." I fear it is marshaling its reserves and staging an all-out attempt at a revolution these days. I don't think it's safe to assume bigotry is in the minority. But I also think it's a tremendous burden for a teenager to feel they must constantly be in the forefront of the fight against it.

I just worry for any young person (truly young or even emotionally young) in this kind of spotlight.

Of all those that self-define as "religious" people in the US, less than 40% believe in a "literal interpretation" of the Bible as "God's Word."

Plus, 20% of the population is "non-religious."

The religious crowd that Patricia Neal Warren (and others) attack are the minority of religious people that have maintained their bigoted-beliefs. Each denomination varies based on a number of factors. 74% of Jewish people support equality. 60% of Lutherans and Episcopalians. More than half of all Catholics.

Much of this data also represents generational differences among religious people. The majority of people under 45 years old are either non-religious, spiritual or they do not believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The group that many in the LGBT Community enjoy attacking and thereby promoting, are a minority of Americans. They should be marginalized by ignoring them and/or laughing at them. They'll either die eventually or decide to join the rest of an evolving society at some point, but their support isn't necessary.

"I just worry for any young person (truly young or even emotionally young) in this kind of spotlight."

I could not AGREE w/you more here AmyMo!

What I have seen in different Blogs/Communities/Boards regarding all the homo/gender politics is outright disturbing. It's all to much... for anyone, let alone a 18yr old girl from a small town in Mississippi.

It's time for the freaking grown-ups to move on w/their different "agendas" and leave the children alone to be better grown ups then the "community" that they are inheriting.

Go back to what? A nice well paid job (working for the school board perhaps)? Start her own business (doomed from the start)? Surely her college experience should open up better opportunities than those.

Margaretpoa Margaretpoa | April 7, 2010 1:27 PM

I hope she tries at least but my own history is not a good example. I stubbornly stayed and tried to change my hometown's opinions and was rewarded with pariah status and a pretty brutal beating. I've never been back.

Leave the town and its fuckwits and move on to bigger and better things. Best of luck to her.

Just a thought, but maybe we should let this kid be a kid and not a political martyr. Leave her alone. Yes, it is fucked up that all the good Christian folk decided to go to another party instead of share prom with her, but aren't we just twisting the knife a bit more? It's great that all of us in queer america have such an interest in this child, but have any of us asked if she wants to be our lamb to slaughter on the altar of equality? For all of us who seem so interested in one of her school mates who got kicked from his home after coming out, how many of us have lifted a finger to help? No, I don't mean called a Congressperson, or bitched in the blogs. How many of us said to these kids "you can stay with me." or "lets get a fund together so these kids aren't living on the street"?

What more can she really do for the town? One Constance McMillen will not be enough for this town to change.

Her choices are her own. She's done a great thing, and she should be proud of herself.

I grew up in a small town in west central Illinois, a lot like Fulton MS, but without the civil rights movement history of that state. My town was a "sundown town," one where signs at the city limits announced, "N-----, don't let the sun set on you here." The signs came down in the mid-1950s when I was a very wee tyke dyke. I had neither Constance's gumption nor the girlfriend to take to the prom, but suffer enough I did in a stultifying closet in a cultural backwater town. The best way for me to survive and thrive was to get outta that hellhole and I did that as soon as I was able. Constance, your town doesn't deserve you; get out and don't look back until Fulton's community consciousness is at least able to understand your courageous struggle to make it a better community for everyone. Then go back and be empathetic and generous because opening minds is painful on both sides of the process. Bless you, young woman!

Kathleen O'Neal | April 7, 2010 5:07 PM

Constance, if you are reading this by any chance, you do not deserve to be anyone's martyr. Get out of town. Do not go back. You will be a successful strong person. I know this because I, too, came from a rural Southern community where stunts like the prom stunt were used to police the behavior of social outcasts. This is what you need to do to experience normalcy, acceptance, success, and good mental health. Do not ever let anyone - regardless of their own sexual orientation or background - tell you that you have a duty to do otherwise. Your work there is done. Many of those who would encourage you to stay there despite the costs to yourself would never do the same themselves and likely have no idea what your situation really entails because they're from places so totally different from where you're from that they really can't relate at all. First and foremost, you are an individual that has to do what is right for you, whether or not that's a boon to the wider LGBT cause. Be strong in who you are and do what's right for you. You have given a name and a face to the persecution of LGBT people in communities like your own. For that, I am thankful and you have already accomplished more than most leaders in our movement in doing so. It's time to move on with your head held high, proud of the great thing you did.

I am a long/almost lifetime resident of Fulton, Ms.. I do NOT support sin, and I DO consider Constance's current behavior to be a lustful sinful lifestyle "chosen" by her. BUT, I can attest to the local school being controlled by pure BIGOTS. During my school years in Fulton, I was subjected to the most cruel treatment I could imagine. I was independently tested to have an IQ of 176 in Jr. High. This made matters worse for me.
The "teachers" seemed to go on a "mission" to prove they were "smarter than me"??? I wasn't trying to prove anything by doing anything in particular, I was just very bored by the same ole subject matter.
I managed to take a college entrance exam and passed with 92%, but the school would NOT allow me to advance. It seems that some of the "rich kids" parents had some issues with it.. I know of the extreme bigotry of Fulton, I have had to live with it! Sincerely, x

An IQ of 176 and you believe our sexuality is a "choice?" Please, test again. Or, just stay in Mississippi - we have a pretty good idea of the State's IQ.

Constance was on the Wanda Sykes Show a couple weeks ago and she said she planned on going to college in Mississippi and being in Mississippi for the next 8 years.

And I support that decision. Maybe she'll change her mind after this, but either way it's her decision.

If someone feels they can stay where they are and fight, more power to them. Because it's those that stay that make change. I don't ask it of anyone, but if they think they can, then I think they should.

I don't know how many times people told me I should just move from South Carolina to a more gay friendly state. I eventually did move, but not so I could live in a gay friendly state.

I think, if you want to be free you have to live as if you are as much as you can. So, I'm not going to revolve my life around the homohaters.

We don't change things by never going where we're not wanted. Gay people also used to say that gays just shouldn't join the military. (In fact some still do). But if they hadn't we wouldn't be talking about repealing DADT.

This, to me, is a classic, broad question -- not just where to create our lives as adults, but how publicly -- for anyone with a heart for social change.

A number of considerations come into play in answer to the question.

  • Balancing personal health and well-being with the need for change: Not every person, and not every season in a person's life, is suited for public work.
  • Personal skills and aptitudes: Some well-meaning folks have sought to lead, or to create their own mini-movement without recognizing that things they may desire most (public speaking gigs, or message-crafting) are not their strengths.
  • Maturity/readiness: Some of the most effective leaders have emerged from seasons in which they were not yet ready, and benefited from mentoring and hands-on learning.
  • Motive: Some potential leaders have been more driven by a desire for the spotlight and a microphone, or even financial rewards, not yet understanding working for change is more often a hindrance than a help to retiring comfortably.

And finally, timing. For some, the urge and ability to lead occurs long before the opportunity to lead. (Or conversely, a person is thrust into the spotlight before being ready.)

The priority, as far as I'm concerned, is to nurture and mentor all members of the community, encouraging innovative hands-on leadership, without setting unrealistic or ultimately harmful expectations.

It will be great if Constance remains/returns to MS... she certainly has the potential to lead.

It's just gotta be on her own terms, whatever they end up being.

She should go out, make a fortune and then go back and start buying up businesses and shutting them down and make every effort to do as much damage to those people as she legally can. Buy some properties and board them up until property rates drop to nothing. But I'm a really vengeful person with little capability to forgive. I imagine that Constance will be a much better person and will just get on with a successful life teaching people to open their minds.

cafurrball | April 8, 2010 6:05 AM

It seems to me that the cat was let out of the bag by one of Ms. McMillen's classmates who didn't want to go to their prom if the same-gender pair were allowed to attend, so they made their own party.

Let us think about that for a moment. I don't believe it's totally the parents of Fulton that threw the town's rep under the bus. How did the news get out that this was going to occur? Some of the kids in that town deserve to have the rep of the town besmirched for their own bigotry. The parents' bigotry - of those who helped to set up the alternate party, "prom" if you want to call it that - is a side issue. Apparently, from what I am reading, seven kids showed up to the "real" prom, along with Ms. McMillen and her beau. So, not all of Fulton is bigoted and backwards.

Venturing a guess here, I believe the kids of Fulton are as much to blame, if not more so than the parents, of making such a big deal out of this. Parroting the parents banner cry of "we don't want our kids attending their prom with her!" is one side of the story. The truth lies in the fact that if the kids truly didn't have a problem with the issue, why did the news get out to begin with?

Seems like the parents aren't the only ones in Fulton who are bigots. How about the kids who supported the "alternate" party, and helped to set it up?

So what about the Transexual kid that did not last one day in that school? Was she the spark that lit the fuse? That town has no idea about how bad they look to the rest of the world!