“MISSISSIPPI: I AM”— Civil Rights and Visibility

mississippi I am

“Mississippi I Am”

Civil Rights and Visibility

Amos Lassen

In 2006, ‘NSync’s Lance Bass came out publicly as gay. He had been once the “most beloved son” of his home state of Mississippi but by coming out he was instantly rejected and his hopes that Mississippi could ever embrace change were ended. Then in 2010 he heard the story of Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old student who was suing her school for denying her the right to go to the prom with her girlfriend. Something was changng even in the most socially conservative states in America. “Mississippi: I Am” looks at the the relatively new battle on the part of primarily young LGBT people to bring gay civil rights and visibility out in the open and beyond division.

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It started as a simple request. 18 year-old Constance McMillen merely wanted to wear a tux and attend her Senior prom with her girlfriend. The school refused. Then they canceled the prom rather than “give in” to ACLU demands to respect her Constitutional right to freedom of expression. Soon the world was shining a spotlight on the district and all of Mississippi.

History has proven that simple actions can inspire tremendous shifts in the course of civil rights (a woman refuses to give up her seat, four young girls try to attend school, a handful of patrons refuse to give up a grungy bar for one night when it is raided.

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On July 20th the district was forced to pay out $35,000 to McMillen to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed on her behalf. For Constance it was the end of a terrible and exhausting 5 month long battle for justice. For Mississippi it is a clear signal that change is coming when it comes to gay rights and visibility. There are plenty of young and progressive people in the state who are there to usher that day in faster than many who are entrenched in keeping Mississippi the same would like to see.

This documentart examines the relatively new fight in the state over “traditional god-fearing values” and the push on the part of primarily young LGBT people and their progressive allies to bring gay civil rights and visibility out in the open.

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“To be from Mississippi is no small thing. The people of the state are proud and most often spend their whole lives dedicated to staying put. The most common stories we’ve heard is that communities are built around church on Sundays and Wednesdays, most of the youth who go to college choose those in Mississippi. There are few outsiders who go to Mississippi schools. After they build their lives if not in the community they grew up in then one still in the state.

But to be “Mississippian” is also to accept that the way things have been done are the way things are supposed to be done. Questioning authority, especially for young people, is not done. Especially if it’s your pastor or your teacher. If you are different it is expected that you will keep your differences to yourself”.

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