Catching Up With Constance McMillen
By Gregory Miller
Constance McMillen, an 18-year-old lesbian from Mississippi, garnered national attention this spring when her high school decided to cancel her prom rather than allow her to wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend as her date. After she successfully sued the school, McMillen was duped into attending a fake prom, along with a few other students deemed unworthy, while the rest of her classmates partied elsewhere without them. The ACLU is currently working on a lawsuit filed on McMillen's behalf. We caught up with the out and proud teen to talk about how far she's come, her upcoming event, and leading this year's New York City Pride as grand marshal.
Out: How has your outlook on everything that's happened changed now that some time has passed?
Constance McMillen: The thing about it is that there's been good stuff and bad stuff. It's like I've said before, nothing's going to change what happened to me, and I'm not going to get my senior year back. But all the great opportunities that I've been given because of this, they've made it a lot better. They've made it a lot easier, and I wouldn't have had these opportunities if this had not happened to me. So, it's kind of a weird feeling.
What motivated you originally to take action against your school, rather than just ignoring them or suffering through it?
I knew that nothing had been done about it before, and I knew that the school had had that policy. I was hoping that -- I wanted there to be a change. I'd talked to people that were gay at my school and it's really hard for people not to be able to go to prom and be themselves. And so, at first, I was just going to talk to the people at my school and try to convince them to change the policy, like help them understand how it feels. But then [when the school didn't do anything], I was like, I guess I have to take action because something's got to be done about it.
How did the ACLU get involved with your case?
Well, I called my mother upset one day about it. She got me in touch with one of her friends, who is an activist, and he gave me Sarah Young's number at the ACLU, and I called her and I was talking to her about it. They were said, "We can help you." They told me that they were going to send a demand letter, and that the school would probably change the policy like other schools had done, and it would be over with. But my school is hard-headed.
After everything you went through with your school, why did you ultimately transfer to another school so close to your graduation date?
I took medical leave from school because I was being bullied and harassed. It was just hard for me to focus at school. I was upset all the time, I was leaving early all the time. It was just getting really hard. The days I had missed were building up, and so I took medical leave from school. But then it started getting really hard to do my work at home because there were classes that you really had to be in class to do. So I transferred.
There were murmurings that those infamous haters, the Westboro Baptist Church, were planning to picket your graduation. Did that end up happening?
Yeah, they're idiots. They came to my graduation. I wasn't there. I graduated at [a Jackson area school], I didn't graduate at Itawamba. I guess their thought was that people in Itawamba didn't teach their kids to be homophobic enough, so God sent me to tyrannize them. I mean, they're sad. Their whole thing is just ridiculous. It wasn't hard for me really, I was just worried for people at my graduation. Even those people -- a lot of them really didn't give a shit about me -- I really was upset about them ruining their graduation. I didn't want that for them. But, I thought that them even coming there was just hilarious.
You've really become an activist and icon for the gay youth struggle against discrimination. Did you ever imagine that happening or this becoming so big?
No, I didn't. The ACLU told me they had dealt with cases like that before -- they send a demand letter, the school changes the policy, and then it's over with. Because a lot of schools don't realize they can't do that. What made it national news was the school sent out a press release saying that they canceled prom. Like, they didn't tell me, they didn't tell the ACLU, they told the press. And that's when the press picked up on it. It was national news -- it was on CNN the next day. But no, I had no clue.
After everything that's happened since -- the fake prom, Facebook backlash against your classmates -- what do you hope will ultimately come out of this?
I hope that more people will be inspired to stand up for themselves. You know, if more people stand up, we can change it. We can change it all. Twenty years from now, we might could have equal rights all around for LGBT people.
Tell me a little bit about the All Love, All Woodstock event being put on in your honor?
It starts at 7 p.m., Friday, June 25th in Woodstock, N. Y. The tickets are on sale at www.allloveallwoodstock.com, and all the proceeds, they help me because they go to a college fund for me, and they help the ACLU LGBT project. There's going to be a lot of celebrities helping out with it -- a lot of bands and Ronnie Spector is going to be there. Murray Hill is going to be there, he's going to be Master of Ceremonies. It's going to be really good. Not only is it going to be fun, it's just a good benefit. It's great.
Are you a big Ronnie Spector fan?
Actually, I don't know that much. I think that's a little before my time. I want to make myself familiar with her music before the concert though. I think it's great, anyone with that kind of status, and they come out and want to stand up for LGBT. People listen when it's celebrities, when it's people higher up. People look at that and they realize that maybe if that celebrity's helping out, maybe it's not that bad. People think that way.
Later this month, you're the grand marshal for the New York City Gay Pride Parade. What does that honor feel like?
When they told me that, I was like, what's a grand marshal? [Laughs.] I've never been to Pride. They don't really have anything around here. And then when they told me, I was really excited. Not only have I never been to Pride, but also when I go to NYC Pride -- which is one of the top Prides -- I get to be the grand marshal. I was so excited, I was overwhelmed.
So what's up next for you?
I am going to go to college'planning on going to Southwest Community College in Memphis for two years, and then Southern for four years, and then UCLA for two years.
Is activism in your future?
I want a PhD in psychology. But, I don't know if it's a job, but something I'd love to do is work for someone such as the ACLU or another organization like that, where I can talk to people who have been discriminated against, who have been in cases like mine. Just helping people who have been through that experience. And yes, I'm going to continue activism.
Tickets are now on sale for the All Love, All Woodstock event at www.allloveallwoodstock.com. Funds raised benefit Constance McMillen's college fund and the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and AIDS Project.
The 2010 Gay Pride Parade, featuring McMillen as its Grand Marshal, takes place in New York City on Sunday June 27. For more info, click here.