Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is there something in the water in Itawamba, Mississippi?

I am really late to this conversation, but I needed some extra time to really wrap my mind around a story that just seemed to get uglier and more depressing with each iteration of reporting. The story I am talking about is that of Itawamba Agricultural High School student Constance McMillen. To refresh the memories of those who have blocked it out for sanity's sake, Constance wanted to attend her high school's prom wearing a tuxedo and take her girlfriend as
her prom date. But because this was about a teenage lesbian in the deep south daring to ask to take someone she cares about, the story quickly grew legs when the school administrators to whom Constance made her request didn't exactly come back with the response she was hoping for:
Jackson, Miss. (CBS/AP) When Constance McMillen fought the law, the law canceled the fight.

With the backing of the ACLU, McMillen fought an Itawamba County school board to be able to take her lesbian partner and wear a tuxedo to the Itawamba County Agricultural High School prom, in the small town of Itawamba, Miss. about 20 miles east of Tupelo.

The school board responded Wednesday by announcing they were canceling the entire prom, scheduled for April 2.

Like so many others around the country and the world who watched this story unfold, I was both taken aback by the bravery of this young girl and completely dismayed by the school officials' spineless decision to cancel the prom rather than deal with the issue. But then, just when I thought the story could not get any more depressing, the school officials, not content to simply go down in history for their moronic over-the-top reaction, decided to make themselves look even more rediculous and cowardly by diverting the blame for canceling the prom from themselves and placing it squarely on the shoulders of this 18 year-old student. If the goal of these school administrators was to bring out the ugliest and worst in their student body, I'd say they succeeded swimmingly. Constance became the school goat:

A Feb. 5 memo to students laid out the criteria for bringing a date to the prom, and one requirement was that the person must be of the opposite sex. [...]

McMillen almost didn't return to school Thursday for fear of retribution by her classmates who had just lost their prom because of her.

Many of the students did blame Constance, some even going so far as to tell her that she ruined their Senior year. Now for anybody with even the slightest memory of their high school years, I can think of few other things that would have traumatized a kid more than to be blamed by their fellow classmates for ruining their senior year.

I felt such sadness and admiration for this little girl. I can say, without a doubt, that I would never have had the kind of courage at that age that Constance displayed throughout this ordeal. My only goal at that age was to blend in and not stand out in any way that would have drawn attention to myself. And if I had been gay, I would have blended into the woodwork and suffered horrendously, but silently. And if by some remote chance I'd done something that made me fall from grace with any of my peers I would have prayed for a quick and painless death, the idea of returning to school with my head held high as Constance did would have never ever been an option for me. Watching this little girl march on with grace and grit has left me both awestruck and proud.

But then, to my absolute horror, this little town (yes, as the story grew, so did the mob willing to show their heartless, heathen side), which at this point knew they were now under the national microscope, collectively dug in their heels and took the story to an even uglier and more cruel level. And I must admit that this is where the story really shook me to my core:

To prevent Constance McMillen from bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.

McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn't much to keep an eye on.

"They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them," McMillen says. "The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to."

Shocking huh? Well just wait, the story just keeps getting uglier. These kids had not hurt Constance enough so they found a way to digitally announce to the world that they were a bunch of heartless bullies and jerks by creating a facebook page called "Constance quit yer cryin." And boy what a walk through the swamps that turned out to be (seriously consider clicking over and reading this in its entirety, it is truly beyond belief:

JACKSON, Miss. (CBS) Apparently humiliating Constance McMillen, the lesbian teen who wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom, by sending her to a decoy prom while her classmates partied elsewhere, wasn't enough for some of her fellow students. Irate over having their original prom canceled - and blaming Constance - they started a facebook page called "Constance quit yer cryin."

While many of the early posts have been pulled by their authors, a few websites seem to have been able to grab them before they disappeared. The first post reportedly read "Seriously, you've pretty much eff'd up your fellow classmate's best memory of High School."

For me, this is the point in which I sunk into a deep depression and began to question everything I believed in. This story stripped almost every bit of the hope I had in this "next generation". I kept asking myself how could I have been so naive? I actually believed that it would be these kids, coming of age right now, that were going to save us from the stupidity and hateful descrimination that has defined so many within my own generation and the generations before mine and expose us for the knuckle-dragging neanderthals so many of us have been.

Oh my God, do I ever feel like a dumb sh*t. Not only were these kids more than happy to side with their school administrators and gang up on one of their own classmates, but they were actually willing to wear the label of knuckle-dragging neanderthals as a badge of honor. They felt zero shame and actually seemed to revel in the spotlight of the national media while doing it. And worse yet, the more attention they got from the outside world, the more shocking and mean their behavior got.

And then there were the parents! What the hell was wrong with them?? We all know kids can be very cruel, but I always believed it was our job as parents to use these situations as opportunities to teach our kids how to be civil human beings and decent members of society. But I guess the rules are different in this little southern town. These parents actually jumped in and joined their children in the bullying! These parents actually helped plan this fake prom and execute this vicious hoax their precious little darlings were planning against their own classmate.

I simply cannot believe that not one parent asked themselves how they would feel if this had been their child singled out for such cruelty. And my mind just reels at the thought that there was not one single parent among them who had a gut-check moment or even a fleeting nano-second of doubt about the decision to go through with this hideous fake prom idea. And yet, I'll bet that most of these petty small-minded people so involved in this travesty consider themselves to be good Christians who never miss a Sunday church service with their behinds planted firmly on a church bench, basking in the glory of their own self-righteousness. But not one of them even stopped and asked themselves if their complicity in treating this teenager like a pariah would have been something Jesus would do?

I am going to go out on a limb here and assume that none of these parents ever read a newspaper or listen to the news because if they did, maybe one of them would have thought about another little teenager who was the recent victim of a heartless mob. Her name was Phoebe Prince and she killed herself last January leaving behind a whole lot of people who will forever wish that they'd had the courage to do the right thing and defend the victim rather than join the mob of tormentors.

Apparently, the parents handbook the rest of us follow to raise our kids is different than the one they use in Itawamba, Mississippi, or maybe it really is something in the water.


1 comment:

Jarred said...

The one (somewhat) positive thing about this whole incident is that some of those students are learning that there is a price for not only being so mean and hateful, but being so public about it. After they discovered that many people were having highly negative reactions to their facebook antics, many of the students are trying to spin their statements as "not as hateful as they look" and even outright retract their statements. Unfortunately for them, they're also learning that you can't unring the proverbial bell. Ask the young lady who asked Pam's House Blend to take down a photo of her and her date from the secret prom. Pam politely informed her that by publishing the photo on a public Facebook page, the young lady was giving implicit permission for bloggers and journalists to capture and redistribute it, permission that cannot be retroactively revoked. There have been a few other incidents around the blogosphere.

So if nothing else good comes from this incident, it's good to know that a group of seniors in Mississippi may learn that no matter their excuses, their actions really do have inescapable consequences. Perhaps they'll learn to think twice before doing something so thoughtless in the future. If so, good for them. This time, their thoughtlessness just made them look like a bunch of hateful kids. Next time, it could cost them a job or something else far more valuable than their image.