by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Constance McMillen, the renowned Itawamba, Mississippi high school student who took on the school district after she was refused permission to bring her girlfriend as a date, and to wear a tuxedo, to the Itawamba County Agricultural High School prom, is scheduled for a personal appearance in Seattle. The teen, who has since graduated high school, will join the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington as they celebrate 75 years of protecting civil liberties at Cal Anderson Park on September 9 from 5:30-7 p.m.
Represented by the ACLU, 18-year-old Constance sued school official and won a federal court ruling in March that her Mississippi high school violated her First Amendment rights when it canceled the prom rather than let her attend with her girlfriend. School officials then cruelly held a "decoy" prom for her while the rest of her classmates were at a private prom 30 miles away. The school district settled the lawsuit by agreeing to a payment to McMillen and the adoption of a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy.
Now, months after having graduated high school in the eye of the storm, Constance tells SGN she is looking to the future with optimism.
"I'm going to start college in the spring," Constance told the SGN from Fulton, Mississippi. "I'll be attending Northeast Community College to study psychology."
Constance says that although her primary focus will be on her school studies, her LGBT activism is something that will continue to blossom while she is in college. "I'm sort of under a microscope because people expect big things out of me," she admits. "There are so many things I want to do with my activism. I expect a lot out of myself."
Constance's public battle with the ugliness she faced from her peers, school administrators, and some of the high school students' parents brought about worldwide media attention as well as attention from celebrities. She appeared on Ellen, The Wanda Sykes Show, received the Stephen F. Kolzack Award at the 2010 GLAAD Media Awards, and was chosen as a Grand Marshall of the 2010 New York City Pride March. Constance maintains that, even after all the exposure and accolades as a leader in the LGBT youth movement, she is a regular teen that likes to "hang out with friends, Facebook, read, and paint."
"Honestly, before all of this started, I had no idea what a Gay and Straight Student Alliance or PFLAG was," she told SGN. "I knew that other parts of the world were more progressive than Mississippi, but I really did not have any Gay role models or activist role models to look up to."
Now Constance finds herself as someone who is fulfilling that role for others.
"It was amazing how many people heard about my story and reached out to help me," she said.
Constance told SGN she has some advice for small-town kids who may be faced with the same hardships that she overcame: "I'm not going to say that it's easy, because it was not easy to stand up for myself with all that pressure," she said. "But you've got to do it. I think you should come out. You have to learn how to read people, because when you live in a small town, flaunting that you've come out can be dangerous to your life. When you are faced with discrimination, stand up for yourself. People may tell you that you don't have any rights because you are Gay or a different color than they are. They will say you are not as good as they are, but you have to believe that just because you are different doesn't make you any less of a person than they are."
"I've always said that diversity makes the world beautiful. Embrace who you are."
Even with all of the positive support Constance received, every now and then she gets hate mail or someone throws slurs her way. "Sometimes people would tell me that God loves me but that I was going to hell because I was Lesbian, or they would accuse me of being a troublemaker," she recalled. "I never really felt threatened at all. In return, I would speak my mind right back. There has been so much support that it is hard to remember the hate - except the hate from my peers, I remember that. Overall, it doesn't faze me."
Constance said that when she was invited by ACLU Washington to appear at the birthday celebration, she agreed because of all the support the ACLU has given her.
"The ACLU took up my case and I was excited," she told SGN. "I remember they didn't think it would get as far as it did. Then, boom! I'm on CNN and my prom was canceled. The ACLU people were really nice and really helpful. They did a great job with my case, and I am very pleased with the ACLU."
"I look forward to coming to Seattle," said Constance. "I'm very excited and happy to see what Seattle has in store for me."
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