Making Prom Happen for Foster Care Girls

Pretty dresses, cute shoes, hair and make-up are all part of the prom experience for millions of American girls. But for many teenagers living in foster care, the prom is just one more thing out of their reach. In Los Angeles County, where over 1,200 teen girls are in foster care, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) volunteers have stepped up to make sure prom happens for foster care kids with the two day special event Glamor Gowns Giveaway. This year, after an email from my wonderful bra shop (Jenette’s “where the alphabet begins at D”), I volunteered to help at the foundation garment table. To Jenette the event is very special, since a number of her family were raised in foster care. The event hit a chord with me because one of my oldest friends, Victoria , raised a number of foster children, facilitated the adoption of one of her fosters, and recently adopted a girl she had been fostering; so for me, this was a tribute to her.

Glamor Gowns was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where weirdly a cheerleading competition was also going on with loads of girls from 1st to 12th grade in full make-up and custom cheer gear, often with both parents in tow holding video cameras, clogging the escalators and halls. Just around the corner, in a large room, foster parents sat with their wards as hair and make-up teams went to work on the girls who had finished “shopping,” while others waited for their section to be called.

In the giveaway room, each girl received a number and was assigned a personal shopper who helped her pick out a dress from the hundreds of brand new donated gowns, along with shoes, jewelry and handbags. At Jenette’s table we helped girls and their shopper choose bras that would fit correctly. Since these were convertible bras which can go from strapless to halter style and back to “regular,” they were more than one-time use items. Jenette had arranged with her distributors to make sure there was a selection donated in every size range. Seamstresses from local studio unions donated their time to adjust the dresses to ensure they fit perfectly.

Personal shoppers included many women from Alpha Kappa Alpha–founded in 1908 at Howard University, it is now a nationwide community service-based sorority–as well as CASA volunteers and women to whom being of service is an important part of their lives. Local KTLA newscaster Michaela Pereira, an advisory board member of CASA who is very active in foster care issues, served as emcee of the event.

It was so wonderful to see the huge smiles on the girls’ faces as they modeled in their gowns, beaming as they picked out rhinestone earring and necklaces to complete their elegant look. By 1 pm almost 300 girls had come through, and my shift was over, but I decided to ask if I could stay longer and take a turn as a personal shopper.

I stood next to the podium with other personal shoppers as girls were called by number. I was introduced to my client, a beautiful 14 year-old girl with long curly hair and a shy smile who said she wanted a purple or red dress, and admitted she was nervous about attending her first prom. She didn’t know what size she was, but I could kinda figure it out. I chose a red dress from the rack and then another one caught her eye, a knee length gray ruched halter top. She tried it on in one the private dressing rooms set up in the giveaway hall. It fit beautifully, and she exclaimed

“This is the dress! This one!”

I agreed. It was totally perfect, and one she could wear to many things, not just the prom. Next stop, the shoe table, where my sweet niece-for-the-day thought she wanted black shoes until a pair of pale pink strap sandals caught her eye. Again a perfect and fashionable choice. A charcoal handbag, dangling but tasteful earrings and a necklace completed her ensemble, and then she was presented with a goodie bag full of beauty and bath products before heading over to hair and make-up.

Even though the guardian for her group home was in the main waiting area/beauty room, my charge asked me to stay with her as she got dolled up, chatting about her desires to be a pediatrician (her favorite subjects are math and science), Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Vampire Diaries; singing one of her favorite rap songs to me, sharing the head set of her CD player so I could listen along, talking about hair and make-up. When she was all glammed up, her long tresses styled with a curling iron, and just the barest amount of make up on her slightly freckled face, she nearly cried when I said goodbye. It was all I could do to hold back tears myself, and once I was on the escalator and moving through the clots of perky cheerleaders and their perfect families, I started to sob.

Proms Get Better: LGBT Teens Recognized as Kings and Queens

Christian and Caleb, prom king and queen (screen shot, WNTW)

This year’s prom season has seen a huge uptick in positive proms for LGBT teens. Blacksburg, Virginia openly gay senior Jake Boyer was crowned prom queen. Boyer–senior class secretary, a choir member, and editor of his school’s literary magazine who came out last year and dressed as Lady GaGa for his big night–was encouraged by his prom reign:

More than anything, this experience just gave me hope for the future. Like, oh my gosh, this little town in the middle of Virginia is able to be this open

At McFatter Tech High School in Davies, Florida, Andii Viveros was elected prom queen. Andii submitted an essay to the school board on the difficulties of life as a transgender teen, and while she experienced a backlash from some students, she was crowned May 27. Her prom king was Juan Macias, an openly gay male student.

And in Sanford Maine–Maine is one of two New England states to deny marriage equality–openly gay 17 year-old Christian Nelsen was crowned Sanford High School’s Prom Queen and his equally out boyfriend Caleb Jett was elected prom king with the help of friends using write-in votes. Both wore tuxedos with their crowns and shared the King and Queen Dance. Talk About Equality reported:

This interview from WNTW News 8 mentions that while some were very happy for the results of the election, others were very unhappy. News 8 tried to interview dozens of people and those who were against it declined to comment on camera – one even said he was afraid of offending someone. How wonderful is it when those who are on the wrong side of history and humanity can acknowledge their ignorance and bigotry through their silence.

Yes, Constance, it does get better.

The “Mean Prom” Masquerade Continues, Constance Not the First to Face Discrimination

A number of students from Itawamba Agricultural High School have  joined the discussion on the post The MEANEST Town in America.  According to the most recent comments, there were three

parent run proms

for students on the night of April 2, the night of the country club prom that Constance attended with five others. The student, screen name fentdog goes on to say:

I don’t much about the school run prom. I do know that everyone went to Evergreen because more work was put into it.

As the photos show, a lot of work went into the Evergreen prom, including a marquee tent with decorations like huge cut outs of masks seen above, balloon arches and disco lights.

The student writes that the Evergreen  event did not have tickets, that there were no invitations, instead kids were “told about” the Evergreen event. The student writes about Constance

people tried to go contact her, but she would never pick up her phone. On the night of the prom, she goes to a different one…the school sponsored one. She didn’t know that everyone had decided to go to Evergreen, thus she had a fit. I can personally recall trying to call Constance to go to Evergreen….but she never answered.

Hmmm, okay. So then why wasn’t she emailed, or Facebooked about it? And what about the other kids who showed up at the country club?

The Evergreen prom/dance party, the one which had photos that appeared on Facebook, the one with kids dressed to the nines cruising away stretch SUVs, the one “everyone went to” where two girls where photographed tongue kissing, shared the same theme as the original school prom which was to be held at the IAHS Commons, according to a memo, dated February 5, which appears to be from the school, issued by two teachers.

The apparent memo about the original prom stated the theme, Masquerade. That theme is seen in photos from the Evergreen party.

The memo also laid down the criteria for the students’ guests. It clearly states that  guests

must be of the opposite sex

Constance challenged that.

Constance isn’t the first student to face discrimination at IAHS. Just before Constance spoke out, another student was forced to leave town.

On February 4, 2010,  WTVA reported that IAHS student Juin Baize was suspended for wearing make up, women’s clothing and boots to school.  Juin, who per Dan Savage, currently prefers the use of the male pronoun, said

They told me that I can not come to school dressed like a girl.

The story continues:

And that’s unfair…says Juin’s friend, senior Constance McMillen.

She says a group of girls came to school Thursday morning, dressed as guys in support of Juin dressing like he does.

Constance says the principal immediately told Juin to go home.

McMillen said, “Mr. Wiygul came to Juin and told him he had to leave and I stopped Mr. Wiygul and I said Mr. Wiygul why are you making him leave? Because he’s dressed like a girl? And he said yes, and I said you know that’s not fair because all of us are dressed like boys. Why aren’t you telling us to leave? And he just said I’m following orders from the school board and I said you can’t rightfully make him leave and not make us leave because, I mean, it’s the same thing.”

Juin was was given a suspension notice and sent home, and when he returned to school after his first suspension, he was suspended again. The reasons for a student’s suspension are supposed to be noted on the suspension form, but that part of Baize’s suspension notice was left blank, according to Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

Bennett told Dan Savage:

Juin’s case was a situation where a transgender student wanted to attend school dressed in feminine clothing, and the school district would not even let him attend school.

Neither the superintendent nor school board attorney wanted to go on camera with WTVA, but both did talk to WTVA by phone at the time of the incident, telling the news station that they.

are simply following the handbook rules, which allows a student to be sent home, if he or she is determined to be a distraction.

The situation escalated, and Juin’s mother, who had just relocated from Indiana to stay with relatives, moved Juin out of state to live friends, fearing for Juin’s safety. Juin is currently attending a virtual school, and the ACLU which was investigating the cae said they won’t be pursuing it.

Juin not being in Fulton makes it difficult for us to pursue any kind of legal action here. And personally, I feel it may be a better decision for Juin to relocate and move on with his life.

The “distraction” issue is being used by the American Family Association to bolster the IAHS school board’s decision. In an editorial published on the Itawamba County Journal site,, Bryan Fisher, the AFA’s Director of Issues Analysis cites a Supreme Court decision, Morse v. Frederick (2007)

that school officials are entitled to restrict student speech and expressions in order to maintain an orderly, disruption-free school environment.

But a reader succinctly refutes that, stating that Fisher misrepresents Morse v. Fredrick, which was case about drug usage, quoting an analysis:

Joseph Frederick, a student at Juneau-Douglas High School  in Juneau, Alaska, displayed a banner at a high school event on which was written:  “Bong Hits 4 Jesus.”  The principle, Deborah Morse, regarded the banner as promoting illegal drugs and confiscated the banner and suspended the student.  After the Ninth Circuit held that the principle violated the student’s First Amendment’s rights, the Supreme Court overturned and held that his rights were not violated…

Chief Justice Roberts wrote “[And] that the rights of students ‘must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.’ … Consistent with these principles, we hold that schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging drug use.”

The environment at IAHS may come up very soon. Chris Keifer reports in

The American Civil Liberties Union is questioning the motives behind the two events as it drafts its lawsuit seeking damages from the Itawamba County School District…

We are disappointed at the sparse attendance (at the event McMillen attended), and we’re looking further into the situation,” said Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

“Whatever we find will be brought to the court’s attention, whether it is in the damages trial, or whatever. There will still be a trial on the merits. The case didn’t end in the preliminary hearing.”

[ht Dan]

Paging Sarah Palin! The Disabled Kids in Fulton, Mississippi Need YOU!

Considering how much grief Sarah Palin gave Rahm Emanuel when he called liberal Democrats “f*cking retarded,” I hope she’ll have something to say about the kids from Itawamba Agricultural High and their cruel dismissal of two learning disabled kids who were sent to the “official” prom with other seven students–including Constance McMillen whose only wish for the prom was to wear a tux and bring her girlfriend–while the majority of their classmates danced away at a private event some called a prom on their Facebook pages.

Dear Sarah Palin,

You are a super all-American mom who fiercely defends her kids. I hope your son Trig is never treated the way some of the students at Itawamba Agricultural High School were this past weekend.

Can you imagine how excited these sweet teens were to go to the prom at the country club? The joy they felt in their formal wear, the pride their parents had as they took pictures and dropped them off with their corsages in place? What a momentous occasion for any teen, and what a huge landmark for a learning disabled kid, going to the prom!

And then comes the horrible realization that they were set up…only nine people are there! Where are all rest of the kids, the pretty girls, the smiling jocks? Well, gee they are at another party, one these kids weren’t invited to.

Mrs. Palin, here’s what one student, who goes by the screenname of softballgirl10 wrote:

and i don’t understand the disabled kids stuff, we don’t even talk to them, so stop judging. they could have come to our prom if they wanted to.

That’s right, Mrs. Palin, the students who went to the secret prom “don’t even talk to” the disabled kids. How could these kids have “come to our prom if they wanted to”?

These kids were treated like pariahs. I hope you take a stand for these disabled kids like you did when Rahm Emanuel called people “retarded.” You have shown America that disabled and special needs kids  are  a glorious gift and that they deserve the respect and compassion. And to be treated as equals.

On behalf of the kids of Fulton, all kids and the kids they may have, and all the people they will meet and affect, please take a stand and let the students and families of IASH class of 2010 know that what they did was wrong, cruel and downright mean to others and to themselves, as lying and deceiving are self-harm and thus sin. This is not what America stands for, this is not who Americans are. Mrs. Palin, you have often made much of the importance of  American values. This is a matter of values, of principle; not politics.


Lisa Derrick

The MEANEST TOWN IN AMERICA: Fake Prom for Lesbian Student?

UPDATE: More photos from the prom and more on La Figa

Constance McMillen’s prom was this weekend. And the town of Fulton, Mississippi is getting a reputation as the meanest place in America.

Last month a federal judge in Mississippi ruled that Constance McMillen’s rights were violated when she was not allowed to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend to the Itawamba Agricultural High School prom. Judge Davidson would hold a trial on the matter later and stopped short of requiring the school board to reinstate the prom, as parents had already formulated their plan to hold a private prom.

There was a private prom all right. On Wendesday, the school’s attorney announced that “the prom” was to be held at the Fulton Country Club on Friday. Constance, her date and seven other kids showed up.

Because the “real prom” was held in a secret location outside of the county, reports nmisscommentator

How rude, cruel and vile.