This Teen Arrived At Prom With Her Girlfriend – Then Discovered It Was Just A Decoy To Divert Her

It’s fair to say that pretty much every high schooler dreams of attending prom. From the glamorous attire, to the limo ride, to the dance that awaits on the other side, it’s a memorable rite of passage for teenage boys and girls alike. But sometimes things don’t always go quite as expected…

And that was the case for Constance McMillen, who had her prom dreams turned upside down by her fellow classmates. When she and her girlfriend arrived on the big night, the couple quickly realized that they hadn’t been invited to the dance at all. In fact, the event that they had been sent to was just a diversion.

Hailing from Mississippi, McMillen was in the eighth grade when she told her friends and family that she was gay. It was an especially brave move considering the conservative tendencies of her home state. “Usually Mississippi is ten or 20 years behind [on LGBT issues],” Izzy Pellegrine, a founding board member of the state’s Safe Schools Coalition, told CNN.

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Nevertheless, McMillen remained the same young student with the same dreams as her classmates. And by the time that she reached her senior year at Itawamba Agricultural High School in 2010, the teenager was looking forward to attending prom with her significant other.

There was only one problem: school officials sent out a pre-prom memo stating that students could only attend the dance with dates of the opposite sex. Because McMillen wanted to go with her girlfriend, though, she double-checked to be sure that she and her partner could still attend.

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In fact, McMillen later told Ellen DeGeneres – who invited the teen on her TV show after the story unfolded – that she had spoken with her school’s vice-principal some five months ahead of the prom’s scheduled date. “He basically just gave me a story,” McMillen told the talk show host. “He said, ‘That’s not allowed.’”

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And some time later, McMillen spoke to the vice-principal again – this time about the event’s dress code. You see, the teen thought she would be more comfortable attending in a tuxedo and so sought permission to do so. “He said that that wouldn’t be allowed either,” McMillen told DeGeneres. “He said, ‘I know it’s not a big deal for a girl to wear a tux, but if a guy shows up in a dress, I’m not letting a guy in with a dress on.’”

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Through all these meetings, then, McMillen thought that she was doing right by her school’s rules. But what happened next was far more shocking than the dance’s conservative guidelines. Incredibly, rather than accept McMillen’s requests, her school canceled the prom altogether.

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Considering the fact that McMillen had already proven herself to be a trailblazer, though, what happened next should probably come as no surprise. Indeed, McMillen decided to fight back against her school’s decision to cancel the dance on account of her sexual preference and her wardrobe choices. What’s more, she enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union to help her prove that her First Amendment rights had been violated.

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And very soon, McMillen was making national headlines for challenging her high school’s apparently discriminatory behavior. Indeed, her story caught the eye of Ellen DeGeneres and other talk show hosts, and McMillen subsequently made numerous appearances on national TV. But while many in the U.S. rallied behind her, some of those in her hometown felt differently.

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At school and in public, McMillen felt “hostility” from the community, she told CNN. “Somebody said, ‘Thanks for ruining my senior year,’” she recalled to the Daily Mail. Unhappily, all of this took a toll on the teen, and she suffered from anxiety and lack of sleep as a result.

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These struggles would seemingly come to an end in March 2010, however, when a federal judge sided with McMillen and the ACLU. When the teenager was refused entry to the prom, her First Amendment rights had indeed been violated. And McMillen’s attorney, Christine Sun, noted how important a decision this was.

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Sun told CNN, “We’re in a conservative area of the country, where people tend to think we can do what we like. This case sends a strong message that that’s not going to fly anymore.” What’s more, the judgement could be cited as a precedent in cases involving other lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students who felt similarly discriminated against.

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And McMillen was handsomely rewarded for putting herself out there and effectively becoming a posterchild for LGBT rights, too. Yes, the teen received $35,000 in damages from her school district, an anonymously donated scholarship fund of $30,000 and several invitations to attend other schools’ proms. “It means a lot to me,” she said. “The amount of support helps me to continue with the fight.”

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Little did the teenager know though, that she would need some more positivity to get through the last leg of her senior year. In the wake of her prom’s cancelation, some of her classmates and their parents had decided to schedule their own private dance outside of school grounds. McMillen was given details of the apparently official dance, to be held at Fulton Country Club, and she made preparations for the night with her girlfriend.

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When she arrived, however, she found that the dance was actually a decoy. There were only five other students there, including two seniors with learning difficulties, McMillen told The Advocate. The rest of the student body, meanwhile, partied at another location. Clearly, then, they did not want McMillen and the students who had been sent to the country club at their prom.

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But while McMillen admitted to being hurt by her classmates’ decision to celebrate elsewhere, she was able to find a silver lining to the situation. “[The students with learning difficulties] had the time of their lives,” she told The Advocate. “That’s the one good thing that came out of this, [they] didn’t have to worry about people making fun of them.”

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After the dance, however, McMillen apparently continued to receive harassment over the prom. She had to make a decision – and opted to stop trying to fit in with her graduating class. So, the teen transferred to a new school in Jackson, Mississippi, for the remainder of her high school days.

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When McMillen finally graduated, though, her path was somewhat uncertain. She was considering an internship and was planning to attend a community college before transferring to a larger university. What’s more, she told CNN that she was considering a career in psychology. “I like helping people and I like talking to people about their problems,” she said.

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And considering McMillen’s hard fight, it was perhaps even more noble that she would pursue such a path. Most importantly, however, she had made a stand in a state known for being less than open-minded. “For Mississippi to be spearheading the LGBT student movement is unheard of,” Izzy Pellegrine told CNN at the time. “[We] are so proud to have it happen in our state.”

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