Last Friday, Constance McMillen went to her prom at her Mississippi high school. Except that when she got there, there were only six other students. Amongst those, two kids with learning disabilities and Constance's girlfriend. The other students were attending the real prom elsewhere. Constance had been sent to a fake prom because she wanted to bring her girlfriend as a dancing partner, and for some weird reason, the school board objected to that. They had objected so strongly that they had cancelled the prom. They couldn't legally go ahead though, because Constance had taken them to court, and the judge had ruled that she should go to the prom! So they cheated, and they faked a prom. The kids with learning disabilities were thrown into the bargain, because, let's face it, they probably didn't have a date. I don't know who the other three were, but my guess is, they weren't all that popular.
Of course to those of us who were brought up in Europe in the seventies and eighties, this just confirms what an utterly weird business this prom thing is. Bad hair dos, shiny dresses in pastel colours, handsome rich boys turning their noses up at cute but poor girls, and then somebody pours a bucket of pig blood all over some girl and we know what happens next! Why would anyone want to go to a prom? More to the point, why would parents of teenagers want to organise a mock adult social event for their children, on such a grand scale too? Haven't they seen Carrie? Haven't they at least read Lord of the Flies? Don't they know that the minute kids play at being grown up somebody will get picked on, factions will get organised and somebody will want to 'kill the pig'?
So kids are cruel, but let's face it, american teenagers will go to proms. But I really don't think that what happened to Constance and these other six teenagers (let's not forget them) was the result of the cruelty of children. Cruelty of adults, more like. I very much doubt it was students who booked the venues, set up the two parallel proms, sent out the invites, etc. But more importantly, I doubt whether the intolerance that started all this came from the students. Somehow I don't imagine their parents sitting at home, despairing over the fact that their kids have become little monsters despite all their sustained efforts at teaching them to accept and respect difference! They didn't inadvertently bring up a bunch of homophobes! I doubt even that the homophobia was passed on through an attempt at rational dialogue, the younger generation coming to accept the prejudices of their parents because they've thought about it as well as they could!
At this point, it's hard to know what to say. Maybe I, and all those others who've written about this simply need to express our outrage, just to remind ourselves, and the world, that we're not all like the adults that were involved in committing this injustice! But what I don't want to do, is go on a crusade of my own. Those children that went to the secret prom, and their parents - they're different. They're more prejudiced, less able to reason about their motives, less compassionate, and more willing to cause harm to a child. But we should respect difference, right? And respecting differences doesn't mean leaving things as they are. My son is autistic. I don't just tell him that I respect and accept him (I do), but I also do my best to help him acquire the skills he will need to function in a world of mostly non-autistic people. So these kids are laden with generations of prejudice? Then they need extra help from the educational system. Their horizons need to be broaden, they need to experience difference, to meet people who can handle difference better than they, to see how it's done. They need the facilities to become educated.
Oh wait - there are such facilities, they're called schools. And that's what the members of the school board and the teachers who helped organise the fake prom should have been doing: helping these kids overcome prejudice. So now I think I want to go on a crusade!