Religion

Humanists Save Prom From Homophobes!

Ready for your feel-good story of the day?

Recently, bigots at the Itawamba County Agricultural High School in Mississippi were faced with a big problem: a gay was planning to show up to prom and convert all the poor innocent hetero kids to gayism with their gay germs!

Lesbian Prom Pic via Autostraddle.com!The school board canceled the prom due to “distractions” after Constance McMillen (that’s not her to the right . . . see Autostraddle.com‘s response to this story) requested permission to wear a tux and bring her girlfriend as her date. The horror! First the board tried banning her from the event, and when the ACLU stood up for her and demanded she be allowed to attend, the board took their ball and ran home.

According to CBS News, “District officials say they hope private citizens will host a prom.”

Well, private citizens have stepped up. In particular, godless heathen citizens! Well done to Todd and Diana Stiefel for donating $20,000 through the American Humanist Association to host a secular, inclusive event.

Too bad we soulless atheists have no morals.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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48 Comments

  1. It’s almost like that scene in Footloose where Kevin Bacon reads the bible in the courthouse and shows the people that there was justification for dancing and thus, the kids should be allowed to have a prom.

    Somehow, reading the beginning of 1 Samuel chapter 18“And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.” – out loud to the bigoted rednecks, presenting David the giant-killer as a gay…they still might not have had a touchy-feely moment of forgiveness. Or a prom.

    Just sayin’. But good on the godless heathens!

  2. That’s brilliant news! I was wondering where this story would go and I’m happy that a good solution has been found, but the situation shouldn’t have happened in the first place really. Shame on you Itawamba County Agricultural High School board!

  3. I have seen lots of evidence that the atheist community supports the GLBT community but fairly little suggesting that there is much reciprocation. Oh well. Unlike some people, I’m interested in doing the right thing regardless of rewards.

  4. A lot of my friends have been discussing this on Facebook, and it was interesting to see how many of my female friends – the ones who grew up in small-town or rural areas like I did – went to their proms with other girls. I personally went to my prom with two other girls. We didn’t do anything gay like wearing tuxedos, thought, so I guess that’s why they let us get away with it. Constance probably could have slipped under the radar if she hadn’t asked permission first – but I’m glad she did and fought back when she was denied. It’s necessary to reveal how backward and ridiculous these attitudes are.

  5. @vjack: I’ve actually encountered some astonishing homophobia in the atheist community. In fact, it’s one of my top reasons for distancing my local skeptic group from larger-scale organized atheism. A discussion about secular people who still consider homosexuality a sin got so nasty on my local skeptic blog that I had to remove the post. By contrast, some dedicated members of my local gay community are also freethinkers and very active in our events.

  6. @Jen:

    Yeah, atheists are varied in their views, just like any group. It’s especially true of atheists who aren’t also skeptics (although skeptics aren’t always perfect either). I most commonly hear appeals to nature or pop-evo-psych rather than to God, but the reasoning is surprisingly similar. The same thing goes for atheist misogyny.

  7. 20,000!! I wonder how much a prom usually costs a school. I imagine they don’t usually budget that much money. Kudos to them! Now they can have an even BETTER prom!!! :D

    humanists 1 = Agricultural high school 0

  8. Two girls at my high school went to prom together. One wore a tux. Aside from juvenile whispering and wondering and tehehe-ing, that was the end of it.

    To this day I still don’t know if they were a couple, if it was a statement, or if they just went together because they didn’t have dates and Sarah wore a tux because why the hell not!

    Quite notably, God did not show up to smite our prom. Weird.

    Hooray for suburban sensibility?

    Hooray for good people who save prom!

  9. @vjack: It really depends on the people. I’ve been lucky to meet fellow atheists (as I am one) that are also huge LGBT supporters. Or just those who don’t do religion, don’t necessarily believe, or don’t care, but don’t necessarily consider themselves ahteists.

    I am a very active LGBT volunteer (or I was, last year, and plan on getting back into it soon, stupid life!). And an out and proud atheist.

    Most LGBT folks aren’t atheist. Most are Christians, actually, at least the ones I know. However, they tend to be far less concerned about what other people believe, and don’t tend to give a shit about my atheism. They just shrug. And I’ve volunteered with the local LGBT churches for events and stuff, with them well aware of my atheism.

  10. I’ve been following this story, too, and was very happy to hear that the local godless group had put up the $ for the private prom. Awesomesauce!

    The Itawamba school board, however, has not changed their stance toward non-heteros. They will continue to discriminate unless the community stands up and demands equal rights for all. I hope they open their eyes. I mean, it’s 2010, folks, not 1950!

  11. awesome development. I think everyone feared a more exclusionary private prom a la racially segregated private proms. Glad to see that wasn’t the case. Plus, 20k should make for a ridiculously awesome prom and those that don’t attend because of religious objections will be the ones missing out.

  12. @JerryM: Depends on the school. Most schools, however, still say “Tux for boys, dress for girls.” Some even say, “a girl must wear a dress, period, no slacks.” And sometimes they get even more strict. But certain schools are probably not nearly as strict, especially in say, San Francisco. :)

  13. As “a gay” I heartily support and endorse this event or product. =D

    What I find most ironic is that the “distraction” came not from two young girls going to prom together, but from the adult school board freaking out and making a stink out of it.

    Considering how much attention this has stirred up, perhaps _they_ need to be canceled. Had they kept their undies untwisted and approached this even-handedly (or just left well enough alone), no one would have cared in the least. And no giant news trucks would have pulled into their town to cover their failure for all to see.

    FWIW, my prom’s ‘code’ was, as I recall, “no jeans, no drinking-age adults as guest”. Otherwise it was dress as nice as you want/can and you can bring one guest.

  14. Hi there!

    Last year, the New York Public Library hosted a vampire-themed “Anti-Prom” which was held specifically for teens who felt awkward about going to their own prom, whether because they were LGBT or any number of alternative lifestyle. (or if you were straight and just open-minded)

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/New-York-NY/Anti-Prom/101033770912

    I would have loved to go, (A library event with vampires? Sign me up!!) but I’m a little old for teen events. :(

    As for me, I am mostly out as a Liberal Atheist Heterosexual-except-for-Antonio-Banderas Skeptic. :)

    — Craig

  15. @maggie: IME, the distraction usually is the adults freaking out, not whatever kids are wearing. A kid comes to school in something odd… green hair, dude with an earring, dude in a dress, dude in a dress who has shaved his entire head except for his bangs which he has stiffened with eggwhites (ahhh, Joe, I’d forgotten about you until just now)… the kids are distracted by it for about 2 minutes, then either settle down or not, as is their personal inclination.

    The adults are the ones who get freaked out about it.

  16. Dan Savage makes an appeal in his column this week regarding the problems of gay youth in bigoted situations. [End of the column.]

    The Offspring is a gay atheist; those of his friends who’ve been rejected by their families all come from religious backgrounds. He has ceased trying to point out to them that when, say, your father comes after you with a butcher’s knife, declaring that ‘God wants me to kill sinners’, perhaps that’s a God you might not want to believe in. [That happened to a friend of his.]

    SF author Keith Hartman posits a 2033 where a gay gene has been discovered, and most gay men are Catholic, as their parents didn’t believe in abortion. One wonders how fast the Fundie right-to-prevent-choicers would leap to decree rape, incest and gay-likely embryo as their new only acceptable reasons to have an abortion.

  17. I have to say, in my high school, lots of girls went together to prom as “friends”, so really the only thing that she did differently was ask permission to dress like a guy and make it slightly more obvious that she’s gay.

  18. I’m loving all the comments along the lines of “I’m a liberal, atheist, skeptic heterosexual except for Hugh Laurie”. The disclaimers are awesome. And such wonderful taste the skepchick commenters have.

    Personally, I’m a liberal, atheist, skeptic heterosexual except for Michele Boyd. And Felicia Day. And that woman from the home loan commercials. Oh and Alyson Hannigan, Kristen Bell, Amber Benson… maybe I should review that heterosexual part.

    On a side note, I find it really difficult to deal with atheists who are homophobic. I just can’t see how they can justify it. They make me a bit HULK SMASH! Is Bruce Banner a skeptic? I bet he’d never be invited to debate creationists.

  19. These comments are very interesting.

    I wonder why many of you on here don’t have the same “tolerance” for Christians that you expect Christians to have for the homosexual community.

    There is nothing “homophobic” about being morally opposed to the acts of homosexuality. So, we don’t agree on whether it is moral or immoral (or if morality even exists in the human heart), but does that mean you have to hate me and all Christians?

    When Christians speak out about things that oppose their integrity and moral conviction, there is an outrage in the media, atheist, homosexual etc., communities. Yet, you all seem to have no qualms about smashing the beliefs of Christians and giving them names that aren’t true. I am not a homophobe. I am not afraid of men and women who are homosexual. I am morally opposed to it because in my belief system, I adhere to the belief that homosexuality is not the way we were intended to live. You can 100% vehemently disagree agree with me. That is your right. Yet, many of you who are reading this just might be thinking, “she’s an idiot”, “she’s completely ‘intolerant’ “, “she’s an arrogant self-righteous religious fanatic”, etc, etc. My belief is turned into a hate crime rather than being accepted as a part of my faith that is very important to me as a human being. Where is the tolerance in that? My belief does not hurt others. My belief dictates the way I live my life; not how others live. I have a moral code by which I live my life. People with other belief (or non-belief) systems have moral codes they live by. We don’t agree. We don’t see things through the same lens because we both think the other groups are looking through foggy lenses. Why is my belief a threat? Why is my code of ethics such an outrage? Why is it so bothersome that I have chosen to live a way that is very different from yours? Can’t I choose to live the way I want to live just as you want to choose the way you want to live?

    We will only ever live in peace when we stop hating each other and stop trying to rule over each other. It is wrong for Christians to do that and it is wrong for non-believers to do that as well.

    Isn’t there a way to celebrate victories without demonizing/degrading other groups of people? It makes this story lose its “power” so to speak, when the remarks are focused on Christians (and others) as though you are spitting in their face rather than celebrating that a member of your community has been prevailed in her fight for what she believes is right. Isn’t there a way to celebrate that is dignified?

    What is so threatening to you about Christianity or Islam or Judaism? If you want to be irreligious or atheist or agnostic or whatever, go ahead. I will never force anyone to believe in God, but why do you try to force me to change my moral convictions and beliefs so they match yours?

    I see that as injustice. I have the freedom of speech and freedom of religion (freedom OF religion, NOT freedom FROM religion) to make my personal beliefs known. That is the beauty of living in our free nation.

    If you truly believe everyone should have a voice and everyone should be treated equally, then why aren’t you treating Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, etc, equally? Why do you fight so hard to silence our voices?

    I am often sad and confused by that. I am not trying to write some sort of angry comment/response out of hatred or spice or ill-intention and I really really really don’t want this to turn into an ugly name-calling heated debate.

    I truly am confused about this and I have often wondered why the groups that seem to scream and shout and fight so bravely for the worthy cause of “tolerance” aren’t tolerant of everyone else themselves.

    When I read these comments, they just feel like they are filled with hatred and anger. I just can’t imagine writing the stuff I’ve read here about people I vehemently disagree with on certain hot topics. It just wouldn’t be right for me to do so.

    I guess it just doesn’t make much sense to me at all. I’ve never posted to a blog like this before, I mean it when I say I am sincerely curious about this whole “tolerance” thing.

    Thanks for reading. Peace!

  20. @GinaBina:
    My belief dictates the way I live my life; not how others live.

    Except when that belief (not your belief personally, but that belief in general) does try to dictate the way people live their lives, i.e. when a prom is cancelled because some gay people think that they might have the same rights as everyone else to be involved. No one is trying to force everyone at the prom to be gay, but they do seem to be trying to force everyone to be straight.

    Can’t I choose to live the way I want to live just as you want to choose the way you want to live?

    Yes, you can. As so far as it doesn’t effect the way that others live their life. You can hold whatever views you like, there are no thought police.

    We will only ever live in peace when we stop hating each other and stop trying to rule over each other. It is wrong for Christians to do that and it is wrong for non-believers to do that as well.

    I completely agree.

    What is so threatening to you about Christianity or Islam or Judaism?

    When they try to force everyone else to live by their moral code.

  21. @GinaBina: Your moral opposition to homosexuality is not based on rationality. It’s based on faith and that is fine but it doesn’t give you the right to tell anyone how they should live their life.

    Your belief system would only be considered a hate crime if you were to act upon it by forcibly inflicting your will upon others. Like maybe telling someone who is gay that they can’t bring their significant other to the prom.

    No one here is trying to silence your voice or the voices of any faith based organizations that is simply untrue. We are quite fond of free speech.

    Nor are we threatened by organized religions unless they try to take away the rights of the people who are not adhering to their policies.

    When someone tells you that you can’t go to the prom because you are a Christian, look us up. We will stick up for you too.

  22. @GinaBina: You choose to be a Christian. You choose to read the Bible, proselytize non-believers and discriminate against those who are different from you (I comfortably make these broad generalizations about you since you do so about us, by the way). Of all of the gay people I’ve known throughout my life, none of them were gay just because they felt like it. They were gay because that’s how their brain and body worked. They weren’t able to wake up one morning and say, “meh, I don’t think I’ll be gay anymore”. Also, they tended not to tell people who weren’t gay that they were worth less as a human being because of it.

    I don’t hate you or all Christians. I don’t know you. If I were to make a snap judgment based on your comment, I wouldn’t say I was your biggest fan – however, without knowing you personally I have no way of knowing whether or not I dislike you beyond the surface. I hate on a case-by-case basis, and really I don’t hate, I ignore. I have friends who are Christian (and Jewish and Agnostic and Atheist and Gay and Straight and Transgendered and Republican and Democrat and Black and White… etc etc). The key to inter-belief friendship is simply not being a dick about it. People are people and, to be honest, I’ve always been confused by the fact that Christians are so un-Christ-like in their refusal to accept people simply for being good.

    The term “homophobe” is a generalization for people who are morally opposed to it. It doesn’t mean you are AFRAID of gays… but would you warn your children about the Biblical consequences if they were to lead a gay lifestyle? I’ll bet that you would, as a good Christian, and that is instilling fear of homosexuality.

    My belief is turned into a hate crime rather than being accepted as a part of my faith that is very important to me as a human being. Where is the tolerance in that?

    Your belief is that those who don’t follow your morals will be cast into the lake of fire, and you’re ok with that. Your belief, in itself, is a hate crime. Perhaps not yourself personally, but as a generalization (again, I feel fine about my generalizations since you feel fine about yours), it’s accepted and taught from a young age that those who are different are inferior. And again, it’s an elected belief. Nobody is saying “you’re a dickhole because you [insert unfair judgment about something you can’t help]” – no, you’re a dickhole because you choose to espouse these optional beliefs on others.

    My belief does not hurt others. My belief dictates the way I live my life; not how others live.

    Your belief does hurt others when they create intolerance and discrimination against those who don’t live up to your moral code. This girl is a high school senior. She’s gay and wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. Not only did the school say “no, you can’t bring her,” they canceled the damn prom and allowed her classmates to blame her for it. Do you remember high school? Did you ever feel different? Were you ever harassed, teased, looked down on? Your faith created that environment for her. She was singled out because she would rather be true to herself than conform to someone else’s standards. That’s unfair and it’s wrong and it’s not at all surprising, if I’m honest.

    Can’t I choose to live the way I want to live just as you want to choose the way you want to live?

    When the way you choose to live stops affecting the way everyone else lives, yes! By all means, be a holy roller all you want and I won’t say a thing about it. But not until your faith stops interjecting itself in everyone else’s business. That includes sexuality, politics, personal beliefs and high school dances.

    We will only ever live in peace when we stop hating each other and stop trying to rule over each other.

    Do you honestly not see the irony in your statement? The group which is ruling over others in this situation is the one refusing to allow a gay student to bring her lover to a dance. What exactly is everyone afraid is going to happen, by the way? They want to go dance and have dinner and have their picture taken together. They’re not going to drop onto the dance floor and have sex in front of everyone (although I guarantee a whole lot of those wholesome Christian boys wouldn’t mind if that did happen). Are they not allowed to dance? Is this some sort of weird Footloose town? Does Kevin Bacon need to get a phone call?

    Isn’t there a way to celebrate victories without demonizing/degrading other groups of people?

    Again. The girl who likes girls is being demonized by her classmates for “ruining” their prom, when it’s the closed-mindedness of the school board (which stems from their faith) who is at fault.

    Look… I will never tell anyone “You should stop believing in God”. That’s not my place. What I will continue to do is let people know when they’re being dillweeds, and that includes atheists. If someone’s being a jerk, they’re being a jerk no matter what they believe in.

    This situation would so not have been a big deal if the school board hadn’t made it so. My high school allowed a gay boy to bring his boyfriend. What difference did it make having them there? None. Seeing them dance together didn’t make anyone ill, nor did a holy host of firey-sword wielding angels appear to eff shit up. Their good time didn’t ruin anyone else’s good time.

    Do you have kids? I have a 2 month old daughter. Nobody knows at this point what she’s going to grow up to be, besides awesome. If she’s a lesbian, I’ll love her just the same. I want her to be happy with herself, with her life and with her eventual partner. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with that unless you make it so, and to force that upon someone who can’t help feeling the way that they do is cruel and unusual. I feel better about myself as a mother knowing that I support my child no matter what than I would as a believer, telling my child to act a certain way or they won’t go to Heaven. Wouldn’t you?

  23. @GinaBina:
    You feel threatened. I understand that feeling very well. Anything opposing your views are a threat. How can you make sense of holding on to your religious belief when you have people around you committing blasphemy without the fear of god’s wrath, right? Oh, I’ve been there! I know that feeling extremely well.

    When I finally left religion (after suffering another bout of severe depression… my faith had made me nearly suicidal) I was EUPHORIC!

    And I can tell you that, from this perspective, when we make fun of christians it’s not because we hate. But I’m sorry, it’s because it’s so easy. And a lot of people might make fun of it for healing purposes too. I know that’s the way I feel. I am very angry at religion for the wrong it did me. But that doesn’t mean I hate the people, the christians. I know what it’s like, I’ve been there. To say that I hate christian would be to say I hate myself. I used to. Catholics are taught to hate themselves. But hate and shame are not feelings that govern my life anymore.

    You can believe whatever you want. But don’t tell us what we can or cannot do.

    @Chelsea:
    Look… I will never tell anyone “You should stop believing in God”. That’s not my place. What I will continue to do is let people know when they’re being dillweeds, and that includes atheists. If someone’s being a jerk, they’re being a jerk no matter what they believe in.

    Well said!

  24. I’m an out and vocal atheist lesbian. The person who works literally next to me is an out and vocal evangelical christian straight guy.

    Our only problem working together is that we talk to each other too much. There’s a very excited kind of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” attitude when discussing each other’s beliefs.

    That didn’t just happen. We were both very committed to getting along. And we had to have the conversation that included him telling me homosexuality is a sin and me telling him I understand you believe that, but I don’t share your religion or beliefs so your rules do not apply to me.

    In the end, we have more in common – being around the same age, in the same profession, and experiencing the same pop culture – than we have differences.

  25. I think the only thing I “hate” about GinaBina is that she was able to read this entire thread and reach the conclusion stated above. I just re-read the whole thread for the sake of this comment and there wasn’t a single comment in it that reduced our opposition to the blanket term “christians”, nevermind one that actually condemned or insulted that group. I did see:

    1) Happiness at the existence of an ALL-INCLUSIVE prom (hey that means you, christians).

    2) Discussion of homophobia in atheist groups (wait, do we hate atheists too? I realize I have a lot of self-loathing in me, but you guys are pretty cool)

    3) Discussion of our own prom experiences, focussing somewhat on whether gays were allowed.

    4) Statements of our own levels of gayness. (ranging from star-fucker to just regular-guy(gal)-fucker, apparently)

    5) The use of this example to counter discriminatory statements about atheists made by the religious (we are amoral and unable to be charitable).

    6) Insults aimed specifically at the school board, which I’m assuming Gina is not a part of.

    It takes a very closed mind to read all that and come away with “WHY DO THESE ATHEISTS HATE ME SO MUCH FOR LOVING JESUS?”

    Sorry, GinaBina, you’re attempting to paint us with a very broad brush, but there’s no paint, and whoops, you’ve misplaced the brush.

  26. I went to my senior prom (1985) solo and in a tux. A female friend of mine went solo as well and wore a beautiful red dress. A lot of people asked to take pictures of us. That’s it. I didn’t ask anyone if it was ok if I went solo, if it was ok if I wore a tux, etc. Not to excuse the negative reactions at all, there is no excuse for them, but Constance shouldn’t have asked anyone for permission to go to her prom with her date in formal wear.

  27. FYI, a lot of straight Christians support gay rights. Please do not label us according to a vocal and insane fundamentalist minority. It would be like judging all Muslims by the Taliban.

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