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 McMillens behalf. We caught up with the out and proud teen to talk about how far shes 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 theres been good stuff and bad stuff. Its like Ive said before, nothings going to change what happened to me, and Im not going to get my senior year back. But all the great opportunities that Ive been given because of this, theyve made it a lot better. Theyve made it a lot easier, and I wouldnt have had these opportunities if this had not happened to me. So, its 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. Id talked to people that were gay at my school and its 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 didnt do anything], I was like, I guess I have to take action because somethings 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 Youngs 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, theyre idiots. They came to my graduation. I wasnt there. I graduated at [a Jackson area school], I didnt graduate at Itawamba. I guess their thought was that people in Itawamba didnt teach their kids to be homophobic enough, so God sent me to tyrannize them. I mean, theyre sad. Their whole thing is just ridiculous. It wasnt hard for me really, I was just worried for people at my graduation. Even those people -- a lot of them really didnt give a shit about me -- I really was upset about them ruining their graduation. I didnt want that for them. But, I thought that them even coming there was just hilarious.
Youve 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 didnt. The ACLU told me they had dealt with cases like that before -- they send a demand letter, the school changes the policy, and then its over with. Because a lot of schools dont realize they cant do that. What made it national news was the school sent out a press release saying that they canceled prom. Like, they didnt tell me, they didnt tell the ACLU, they told the press. And thats 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 thats 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. Theres 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, hes going to be Master of Ceremonies. Its going to be really good. Not only is it going to be fun, its just a good benefit. Its great.
Are you a big Ronnie Spector fan?
Actually, I dont know that much. I think thats a little before my time. I want to make myself familiar with her music before the concert though. I think its great, anyone with that kind of status, and they come out and want to stand up for LGBT. People listen when its celebrities, when its people higher up. People look at that and they realize that maybe if that celebritys helping out, maybe its not that bad. People think that way.
Later this month, youre 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, whats a grand marshal? [Laughs.] Ive never been to Pride. They dont 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 whats up next for you?
I am going to go to collegeplanning 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 dont know if its a job, but something Id 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, Im going to continue activism.
Tickets are now on sale for the All Love, All Woodstock event at www.allloveallwoodstock.com. Funds raised benefit Constance McMillens 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.