Thursday, March 11, 2010

Joseph O. Patton: Don’t ask, don’t tell… at the prom?

  She simply wanted to attend prom with the person she loves.

  Itawamba County, Mississippi’s school district is canceling prom - not due to a lack of funding, security threats or any other tangible reason. They’re killing prom for the entire student body of the area because 17-year-old Constance McMillan wants to attend with her girlfriend, a fellow student.

  The ACLU has sued on McMillen’s behalf, but whether this prom ever takes place or not, the damage has been done.

  Sadly it’s indicative of a nation that is still plagued by narrow-mindedness and bigotry. After all, unless President Obama fulfills his promise to overturn it - and to date, he hasn’t - our federal government will continue to utilize institutionalized discrimination via its repressive and discriminatory “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. When our own central government openly exercises discriminatory policies, it shouldn’t surprise us when similar actions are executed at a lower level - even a high school prom.

  What is most troubling about the district’s action is it is unjustifiably punitive and belittling to a child, a mere 17-year-old who merely wants to participate in a common rite of high school passage. It isn’t about school policy or anything academics-related for that matter - it’s merely a social event.

  The school district’s “policy” against same-sex couples attending prom together is flawed and puzzling. If the district disallows two (or more) students of the same gender from attending together, wouldn’t that also include a group of heterosexual students who may be going “stag,” attending as friends who happen to be of the same sex, but are not there as a “couple?”

  Legitimate concerns are understandable when it comes to how sexuality, religion, politics and similar controversial subjects are presented to young minds in a public school system. Parents - even those who are woefully misguided - have a right to air their views and grievances to their local school board when it comes to how such material is presented to their children. But this is no such case - it’s a non-classroom related social event. No one’s agenda is being shared, and no one is being “indoctrinated” with a certain view on a divisive topic. These are young people merely wanting to play dress-up, swig some punch and dance with their peers.

  What is truly petty and unprofessional about the school district is that it is willing to pit McMillen against all of her classmates and the entire community, essentially saying, give up your right to attend prom with the person you love or we’ll turn everyone against you and turn you into public enemy number one by canceling the event entirely. Not only is it hateful in purpose but cowardly as well. Any school system - public or private - should be in the business of educating its students, not using a child in its charge to make a political statement and inciting misguided public scorn upon the very individual it should be serving.

  Observers can haggle over the legality of the issue, but ultimately the most pressing issue to me is the sheer, shameless, mean-spirited approach by the school district - they’re willing to steal prom from the entire school’s population, publicly humiliate and alienate McMillen and her girlfriend, all in the name of forcing their bigotry down everyone’s throat. The resulting hostility from students who will blame McMillen for the cancellation of the prom may even bring threats and harassment to her door. In essence, the school district may be endangering McMillen’s well-being and security, as well as her family‘s.

  Ironically, the school district issued a statement citing the “safety and well being” of it students as its reason for canceling the prom. The only individual’s safety and well being that is in question is McMillen’s and only because the school district made it so by publicly humiliating her and attempting to turn her into a pariah… all because she’s being who God made her.

  This is the very manner of bigoted, hateful and violence-inducing action that creates a climate of fear, distrust, ignorance and contempt against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered citizens in our country. Such hostility is dangerous enough on its own, but it becomes more poisonous and volatile when it’s perpetuated by a school system, a branch of government or even a high-profile, so-called “religious” leader. It gives license and blessing to those who carry such hateful, misguided thoughts to act upon their ignorance, because in their minds, it has been approved by an established group or leader who holds some semblance of authority or influence.

  And yet the confusion-riddled tears flow freely and we all wring our hands and shake our heads in disbelief when an act of violence or discrimination is carried out against a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) individual, and we all claim to wonder why, sinking into a sorrowful pile of befuddlement. We’ve seen such reactions in the wake of the barbaric, tragic deaths of people like Matthew Shepard and Alabama’s own Billy Jack Gaither.

  But when our so-called religious leaders, government representatives and even the highest level of government regularly treat gays and lesbians as second-class citizens, somehow less of a person than their heterosexual neighbors or even “evil,” then no one should be surprised when the climate of discrimination and contempt spreads, hateful prejudice persists and even acts of physical violence continue to occur against gays and lesbians. It’s the equivalent of placing a paper bag over your head then wondering why it’s dark - what exactly did you think was going to happen?

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

1 comment:

  1. I've long felt that the actions of our secular state should not be assigned any religious or moral value. For the religious to get involved politcially in issues like gay marriage actually assigns moral value to the policies of government that the civil government does not have. In other words, two Christians can marry in a church. The fact that two lesbians get married by the state in the courthouse does not diminish the religious nature of the Christian marriage at all. The state does not have that power. If two lesbians show up at a prom, then their presence should not affect the religious convictions of anyone at the prom. If the state tried to force churches to sanctify gay marriage, that would be a different story, but no one has ever tried to do that. Rather, Christians have tried to get the state to sanctify civil marriage, which is ridiculous, even for a devout Christian. Did Jesus care a bit about Roman imperial policy? He only cared about individual belief.