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Private Prom Moves Forward; Lesbian Can Attend

FULTON, Miss. - With a shock of purple hair and dozens of handmade baubles hanging from her neck, fingers and wrists, Linda Lindale says she knows she's not what some consider normal.

"I'm 56 and have purple hair and a tattoo," she said. "That's just me."

Being a bit different is part of the reason why Lindale, a local artist and born-again Christian, is disturbed by the reaction some in this town had to Constance McMillen, 18, the Itawamba Agricultural High School senior who challenged her school's rule against same-sex dates for the prom.

"Do I agree with that lifestyle?" Lindale said, referring to McMillen's homosexuality. "No, because I'm a blood-bought child of the King. But I'm not going to condemn her. It's not our job to judge."

After stops and starts, a private prom is scheduled for Friday at the Fulton Country Club. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Christine Sun said McMillen plans to attend. School board attorney Michele Floyd says McMillen will be allowed to attend with the date of her choice.

"It seems that they worked it all out among themselves," Sun said. "We'll see what happens."

Sun said McMillen will attend with a female date, but it may not be her girlfriend, a sophomore who has shied away from the spotlight. McMillen may be joined by her father or a bodyguard, Sun said.

Jay Nichols, a junior at the school, said the dance at the country club will be one of several private proms scattered around Fulton on Friday night. Nichols, 17, said students organized the dance after the parent-sponsored prom was canceled. "We are still going to dress up and take pictures and all that stuff," he said.

Nichols, who said he and McMillen are friends, said students are split over whether she or the school board deserves the blame for nearly ruining the prom. Mostly, he said, students are tired of the controversy.

The fight over the prom engendered bitter discord in the city of about 4,000 in northeast Mississippi. After McMillen asked to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo to the prom, the school board voted March 10 to cancel the event.

Testifying last week in federal court, high school Principal Trae Wiygul said he had received about 4,000 e-mails, 90 percent supporting McMillen.

U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson ruled that McMillen's rights were violated but declined to overrule the school board's decision because a private prom had been planned. That prom was canceled Tuesday, but the new one was organized within hours.

Friday cannot get here quick enough, Mayor Paul Walker said.

"We've been hammered pretty good," he said.

Arlene Norton, owner of the downtown boutique Magpie Market, said it has been tough to watch Fulton treated like the center of American intolerance. She said she believes the town is about 50-50 on the issue.

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