Time to put the kids to bed and forgo the usual pasty preamble, my dear readers, because I’m going to get right into it today.
Over the past month or two, I’ve been following the curious case of Constance McMillen, the 18 year-old high school senior from Fulton, Mississippi who had the misfortune to be born gay in what might just be one of the least-tolerant locales in the whole United States. It seems young Constance had the unmitigated gall to request – to request – that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend to her senior prom, and predictably the locals started gathering pitchforks and lighting torches almost immediately. Nobody wanted to be seen supporting the queer devil-girls, you see, or they’d be ill spoken-of at the 4H club.
The whole issue turned into a media free-for-all in which the same old arguments were bandied about, usually boiling down to “Christians Vs The Liberals” – a cliche I would sincerely like to see taken out back of the barn, Old Yeller style, and unceremoniously put down. Constance and her family, with the support of the ACLU, petitioned to sue the Itawamba County School Board because the exhaustingly obtuse middle-class white people running the board refused her request to bring a date. The school board even threatened to cancel the prom altogether, leaving Constance and her lady friend to take the heat from fellow students who were understandably angry about missing their big night, but the tired old bigots in charge eventually acquiesced, stating only that prom would not be held on school property.
While Constance quite likely spent an unpleasant few weeks fielding her classmates’ hatred, prom seemed to be moving forward, so I decided not to write about it because it looked like a victory for the Good Guys, and let’s face it – nobody comes to SoA to hear good news.
Fortunately for my writer’s block and unfortunately for civil rights, it turns out the neanderthals in Itawamba pulled a fast one on everybody by holding two proms.
You heard me correctly, dear readers, but hang onto your hats and check your incredulity meters because it gets even better.
For a bunch of people whose cultural IQ only slightly exceeds that of your average sprig of moss, they managed to pull off a pretty crafty scheme. Because the school board had elected not to hold the prom, a private function was organized by parents and community leaders instead – and the understanding of the court was that Constance and her girlfriend would be invited. But apparently the parents were so adamant about protecting their young from the evil influence of eighteen year-old lesbians, they decided to employ a classic bait-and-switch manoeuvre by arranging the aforementioned private prom and then delivering faulty information to Constance, her partner in sin and a handful of other misanthropes from the graduating class. What misanthropes in particular, you might wonder, and you’d be right to do so. Based on the delicate rhetoric of the article, which stated several of the other five students had “learning difficulties”, I can extrapolate they really mean “the special ed class”. I’ll get back to the ramifications of that in a minute.
Result? Constance and crew show up to a country club populated entirely by “chaperone” teachers and have what I can only imagine would be a spectacularly dull evening, while the rest of the graduating class spends the evening rocking out to Akon and Lady Gaga whilst drinking Natty Ice and ill-gotten SoCo out of juice boxes or whatever it is the kids do these days. Granted, that may not sound like much fun to you, my dear readers, classy and highbrow individuals that you all are, but to a bunch of high school seniors in Nowhere, Mississippi, that kind of mediocre debauchery constitutes the highlight of an otherwise listless and unfulfilling four years in an academic gulag.
So in the end it really wasn’t a victory for the Good Guys, was it? Apparently the denizens of certain Southern locales really miss that whole “separate water fountain/back of the bus” segregation that made the first half of the last century so stimulating, but since they’re not allowed to lean on the coloured folks anymore, they’ve taken to shitting all over the Rainbow – in the most egregious display of juvenile, grade school clique mentality I’ve seen since, well, grade school.
I’ve spent some time trying to get my head around this issue, but I’ve come up blank. It’s worth calling attention to the fact that a) to the parents of Itawamba, homosexuality is on par with mental deficiencies (this became pretty clear when they segregated the unpalatable elements of their student population at a separate prom) and b) apparently anyone who isn’t straight and of average intelligence (for that area, which I can’t imagine is a particularly high bar) somehow represents an unsavory, possibly even detrimental influence on their children.
It comes to mind, you know, that another group of delicate white people shared a similar philosophy not all too long ago, and if you remember, the rest of the world wasn’t all too keen on seeing that philosophy become ubiquitous – at least, not if we can’t profit from it (killing Jews bad; slavery perfectly fine!)
Now granted, the schism between genocide and “you can’t come to my party” is pretty vast, but both examples speak to the base of segregation and bigotry: that base is called “fear” and no matter how naive it might be to say, I really thought we were getting to the point where that kind of fear no longer governed our conduct towards our fellow people. Apparently I was wrong.
I’ve lobbied in favour of gay rights for a long time, with enough passion to lead many to believe I might have a vested interest based on my own orientation. Translation, people think I’m gay. I’m not, and there’s a short list of women you could contact for eyewitness accounts to the contrary (but please don’t give them my contact information – I’ve spent a lot of time and money getting the hell away from most of them), so why do I have that vested interest?
For the same reason the rest of us should. Because there’s nothing wrong with being gay and you all know it.
There was a lot of rhetoric in the comment sections of the articles I’ve read that bespoke a sort of softcore homophobia: a lot of people took the side of the Itawamba community in saying “I don’t have any problem with gay people as long as they don’t flaunt it”. I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: I don’t think it’s necessary for anybody to ‘flaunt’ their sexuality. I have just as much problem with a straight couple trying to eat one another’s faces on the dance floor as I would a gay couple. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about a senior prom. What’s the worst thing you’re going to see? Two girls dancing together? Yeah, because that never happens. I attended no fewer than three proms in high school (one was mine, the other two were for girls I was dating) and every time there was at least one group of girls who paired off and went as one anothers’ “dates” because they didn’t have boyfriends or whatever – they spent the whole night dancing together. Okay, so there wasn’t a romantic subtext because they were straight, but what’s the difference?
Oh, the dress code. Right. Girls aren’t allowed to wear tuxedos in Itawamba, for some ambiguous reason they never really flesh out. I can only assume it’s because they don’t want to come right out and say “girls wearing boys’ clothes makes us uncomfortable”. Why they don’t want to be up-front about this is beyond me: they’ve already made their position clear by hoodwinking their own personal Breakfast Club into attending a farce prom, so why not put all your cards out on the table?
On some level the part that bothers me the most about this story is that very ambiguity. I have more respect (if you can call it that) for someone who stands up on a podium and says “I am a homophobe” than somebody who tries to couch it in politically-correct rhetoric. If you’re a bigot, be a bigot. I’m going to think you’re an asshole either way, but at least this way you’re being honest.
If the Itawamba community had come together and said as one, “Constance McMillen, we don’t like you because you are a homosexual, and therefore we will be banning you from attending our prom night” at least they would have taken a stand, and the whole thing would have wrapped itself up much faster. But all this sub rosa cloak-and-dagger nonsense about arranging a fake prom seems completely pointless: did they seriously think Constance and crew were somehow going to look around and say, “Oh gee, I guess everybody else decided to not go to prom”? I mean, I understand they think of homosexuals as deviants, but they can’t possibly deign to assume they’re fundamentally stupid too, can they?
Oh, wait – they lumped them in with the special needs kids. I suppose it’s not that far outside the realm of feasibility for the Itawamba community to assume sexual orientation directly relates to inherent intelligence. I can just imagine the town meeting.
“Hey now, I gots an idea! How’s about we fool those dumb queers into going on down to the country club with them retards what the state makes us keep in the school? Then our kids can have themselves a right hoedown without them faggots ‘n deviants bringin’ down the good times! Oh, they’ll never figger it out, cuz we’ll send some teachers ‘n all to make it look all real-like. I know I’d be convinced! Now where’s that moonshine? My daughter’s waitin’ for me back at the trailer. Yee haw!”
I’m sorry, that was probably offensive. You know, because pigeonholing an entire group of people into a two-dimensional negative stereotype and then judging and castigating them isn’t fair, right?
Final thought before my head explodes: it’s the 21st century. Homophobia is a curb an inch high that we should have jumped long ago. Itawamba wins the Most Childish Community award for this month; congratulations are in order for setting affirmative action back two hundred years. Constance, if you’re reading this, I’d recommend you get the hell out of the Town That Evolution Forgot as soon as possible, find some hip out-of-state college where people will judge you based on your quality of character and your academic prowess instead of who you’re wired to love, and don’t look back.