Sunday, March 28, 2010


Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., sued her school district after it canceled her senior prom. McMillen, who has come out as a lesbian, wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom. That's apparently against school policy, as is her desire to wear a tuxedo to the dance. The school board decided to cancel the prom "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events," and the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi brought the lawsuit on McMillen's behalf. Others have offered to fund alternate proms for McMillen and her class.

Should a school board be permitted to establish guidelines as to appropriate dates and dress for a school-sanctioned event? Or should the question of whom to bring to the prom and what to wear be left entirely to students?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

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Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, this so-called "crisis", which has been in the news lately because of its notariety, is the last thing I would discuss from the standpoint of ethics. We are not discussing ethics here, we are discussing a lesbian insisting on wearing a tuxedo to a school prom, an article of clothing which is worn by men, not women. Is it ethical for a lesbian to insist on being allowed to wear a tuxedo? I would say it is not. A lesbian who wants to flaunt her sexuality decision by insisting on being allowed to wear a tuxedo to a high school prom knew she was causing an upset in her school, but insisted not only on her "right" to wear clothing traditionally worn by men, but now we have the ACLU brought into the picture, an organization that constantly brings lawsuits against ideas that most people do not agree with. I believe that if this lesbian, who insisted on wearing a tuxedo, which of itself would have caused a scene, had instead simply attended the prom wearing the traditional clothing of a female, there would have been no disagreement in her attending the celebration in the company of her same sex partner. But, of course, that was not her intent in insisting on wearing a tuxedo, her intent was to cause a scene and an upset and the school made the right decision to cancel the prom.

Charlie Seng

Unknown said...

Given that this is 2010 and women can wear pants any other day of the year, why shouldn't a girl be allowed to wear a tux to her prom if she wants to?

Anonymous said...

Really!? A woman wearing a tuxedo is unethical! Get a grip! I have seen many women wearing tuxedos! As a matter of fact the trend was started a long time ago. I have been a wedding and event photographer for almost 25 years, I myself wore a tuxedo style pantsuit back in the 80's when it was common for photographers to wear tuxedos to weddings. Many female photographers or DJ's wore them too. There are restaurants where all the employees, including the females, wear tuxedos. Heterosexual or homosexual women have been wearing tuxedos for a long time. A female student wearing a tuxedo to prom is no big deal and should not be treated as one. It is not an ethical question and it a personal choice for attendees to make. Let them make it and back off.

As for the date question. Over the years many people have chosen dates of the same sex. Sometimes it is a group of guys going together just because they are too shy to ask a girl to come, or two girls who attend together because no boys asked them. Again, who an attendee brings to the prom is their choice and not the choice of any one else, except maybe the parents. I would ask them to behave accordingly at the prom, just like I would ask any of the other couples. No making out on the dance floor, lesbian or not!

Here's the thing, too many people get too worked up over what other people are doing with their lives. If the young woman's parents are aware of her choice and are okay with it, it is no one else's business. If you make a big deal about it it becomes a big deal. Leave it alone and it will be no big deal.

I personally believe that what she wears, and who she brings is her choice.

However, The school already had these policies in place. I don't know the whole story. Is the school a private school or a public school? Public, then they need to update their policy. Private, then they can set whatever policy they want. Why? because the parents are paying to have their children go to a school that offers things more in line with their thinking, whether we like that or not. For instance, some parents send their children to Christian schools, or Orthodox Jewish Schools. Both want the teachings of their religions honored.

So, it might not be unethical for the school to have canceled their prom, but neither is it unethical for the girl to try to change the system to allow all people to attend the prom without prejudice.

If we would all work harder to accept people for who they are this would be a better world. Don't forget that God, no matter what faith you are, asks that we love each other and accept each other. Leave the judging up to God, it is God's job, not yours.

Henzellini said...

What I think is unethical about the school's action is that it was apparently done to sidestep any legal action by the ACLU. I.e., if they had just banned the girl and her date, the ACLU would have obtained an injunction allowing the couple to attend. The school is betting that getting a court to intervene for the purpose of forcing the school to hold the dance will be a lot tougher.

The other reason that the school's action was unethical was that they have pre-emptively made the girl the scapegoat. If you read any of the news articles, most of the other kids whose Prom got canceled are mad at the girl for creating the issue, not at the school for canceling the dance.