Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Itawamba High School, Educating the Bigots of Tomorrow

Location of Fulton, MississippiImage via Wikipedia
That sounds a bit harsh, I suppose. After all, where do I get off accusing an entire school of being ignorant, backwards, redneck, homophobic redneck bigots? Seems kind of cruel, doesn't it?

Indeed, let's talk about cruel.

If you watch or read the news with any regularity, you've probably heard about the struggles of young teenage lesbian Constance McMillen, who has been jumping through legal hoops in order to take her date to the Itawamba High School prom. Usually not a big deal. But it suddenly becomes a big deal when your prom date is of the same sex, and school you attend is populated by uptight judgmental tools abiding by a morality system half a century out of date.

First, they told Constance that she would not be allowed to attend the Itawamba High School prom with her girlfriend. Constance rightly deduced that she was being unfairly discriminated against, and with the help of the ACLU got the courts to force the school to allow her to attend the prom. Not to be outdone, Itawamba High School cancelled the prom, insisting that it was being cancelled for a completely unrelated and unspecified reason. Constance, the ACLU and the courts saw through this clever ruse, however, and promptly ordered them to hold a prom.

So, what did the proud members of Itawamba High School, which laughingly includes the word "empowerment" in its Mission Statement, finally decide to do? Begrudgingly accepting the court decision and take a reluctant step into the dawn of acceptance and tolerance would have been way way to handle the decision. Instead, Itawamba High School decided to adhere to playground rules and hold a secret prom.

Just to be clear, this is not an exaggeration or embellishment for dramatic effect. A "fake prom" was held at a Fulton, Mississippi Country Club, to which only seven students were directed to: Constance and her date and five other students, two of which were students with learning difficulties. The rest of the students were apparently directed to a "secret prom," or as I like to call it, a No Gays Prom, at an undisclosed location.

Now, there is no shock when it comes to teenagers acting cruelly or maliciously, or using exclusionary tactics to embarrass or degrade others. Kids are kids, and there will always be those who seek to feel better about themselves by publicly ostracizing or excluding other kids for any reason available that marks them as being "different." If this was just the students, then this sort of behavior, while still unacceptable, would be sadly expected.

But this isn't just about the kids. These are the parents of teenagers, active in the community, no doubt with direct ties to the school board, that actively coordinated the creation of two separate proms: one for "our kids," and on for gays, mentally handicapped, and any other unwanted students.

It goes even wider than that: there can be no doubt that the faculty of Itawamba High School knew about these arrangements, and that word spread to at least some of the residents of Fulton, Mississippi that the grandest display of juvenile exclusionary backstabbing was about to take place. Yet no one saw the need to inform Constance, her parents, or the media closely monitoring the whole scenario that something foul, disgusting, and downright immature was about to take place. Indeed, it seems that the kind of petty isolationist attitude you would expect at a twelve-year-old's birthday party was fully supported by any and every so-called responsible adult that knew about it.

Any rational human being (i.e., not someone from Itawamba High School) might be tempted to feel sorry for Constance, just imagining the emotional impact of having the entire student body, as well as the staff and faculty of Itawamba High School, and a good portion of the town of Fulton, Mississippi tell you that you are unwelcome by inviting you to a fake prom. But there is no pity to be had here, for Constance truly comes out as the victor in this scenario. She not only successfully stood up to institutionalized discrimination and bigotry, she forced the bitter, hateful people of Itawamba High School to show their true faces while simultaneously hiding from public view.

All it takes is a brief trip to the Photos section of the Itawamba High School Website to see the true display of cowardice; the blank page where the Prom 2010 Photos should be is blank, as the school apparently doesn't feel the need to post pictures from either the Fake Prom or the No Gays Prom. There is also no email address listed on their Contact page, only a physical mailing address, although whether this was the case before the No Gays Prom is unknown to me. Their omission reveals their acknowledgement of their complicity, that a whole nation of rational human beings would hold these smiling pictures of happy students and proud parent chaperons, and rightfully declare every smiling face the face of ignorance and prejudice.

I hope colleges across the country are taking note of Itawamba High School's graduating class. I think any institution of higher learning would want to take into consideration a potential college student's involvement in a vast conspiracy to publicly shun and segregate a fellow student based solely on her sexual orientation. Always looks good on a job resume, too. 

Constance is already far wiser than most of the jackasses currently attending her school and teaching her classes. When asked about the fact that two students with learning disabilities were also directed to the Fake Prom, she said "They had the time of their lives. That's the one good thing that come out of this, they didn't have to worry about people making fun of them." It's a sad but intuitive realization for a young girl to have, that sometimes it is better to be excluded than to be mocked and ridiculed by ignorant and immature people full of little more than hate and uncompromising intolerance. Especially when that level of ignorance and immaturity is being displayed by a majority of your town's parents and educational professionals.

Itawamba High School, Home of Intolerance and Bigotry. Now there's a Diploma worthy of framing.
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