EXCLUSIVE: The topic of gay teen bullying has dominated the media lately with news reports of five teen boys taking their lives last month alone after being harassed because of their sexual orientation. One of the rare cases where the bullying led to a happy ending — the story of rural Mississipi lesbian high school student Constance McMillen who successfully sued the local school district for discrimination — will become a TV movie for ABC Family. The project, in early stages of development, hails from Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and Sony Pictures TV who have optioned the rights to McMillen’s story. Ghost Whisperer creator/executive producer John Gray will write the script and is expected to direct.
In March, McMillen challenged the Itawamba County School District when it barred her from attending her prom because she wanted to bring her girlfriend as her date and wear a tuxedo. The district responded by canceling the prom, prompting the ACLU to file a lawsuit claiming the teen’s rights had been violated. The flap led to a backlash by many of McMillen’s friends, their parents and the school board who turned against her. Because of the constant harassment, she had to pull out of her Itawamba Agricultural High School and finished her senior year at a school in Jackson, Miss. But McMillen’s case quickly drew nationwide attention and she ended up receiving a $30,000 scholarship from Ellen DeGeneres, serving as a grand marshal for New York’s Gay Pride Parade and attending a reception at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama. She also recently won a $35,000 settlement in the lawsuit against her school district, with the district agreeing to follow a non-discrimination policy.
Openly-gay producers Zadan and Meron, currently shepherding the Footloose feature remake, have a track record of producing socially-conscious movies about gays. They won GLAAD Media Awards for Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story and for What Makes A Family. Both films were produced by Sony TV under EVP Helen Verno and co-produced with Barbra Streisand. Zadan, Meron and Sony took a lighter approach to the subject with Wedding Wars, the first film about gay marriage. Meanwhile, ABC Family was noted in GLAAD’s annual TV report last week for increasing the number of LGBT characters on its shows. Gray previously collaborated with Zadan, Meron and Sony on the telefilms Brian’s Song and Martin & Lewis. His feature White Irish Drinkers recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
As for the aftermath of the recent tragic gay teen suicides, Hollywood has been at the forefront of the fight against discrimination and abuse, with a number of gay celebrities taping videos in support of gay students.