The ACLU has announced that Heather Gillman has been selected by the Playboy Foundation to receive the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award for "her fearlessness in speaking out on behalf of the rights of gay students" at Ponce de Leon High School, located in Florida's Panhandle.
Gillman was the student who won a groundbreaking First Amendment case against her school after her high school principal discriminated against her gay and lesbian friends, banned any sort of symbol or slogan supporting gay rights, and suspended at least 11 students. During the case, it was revealed that Principal David Davis engaged in what the judge called "a witch hunt" against gay students, including interrogating students and hosting mandatory "morality" assemblies. Davis also testified that he believed clothing or stickers featuring rainbows would make students automatically picture gay people having sex.
Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida, said this of Gillman:
Heather Gillman is a courageous young woman who is most deserving of this very prestigious First Amendment award. That her actions have received accolades from the Playboy Foundation demonstrate that her actions go beyond the walls of her rural high school, she has in essence taken a stand for all students in America. She exercised leadership and honesty when she stood up to the school's principal and the school board on behalf of the rights of gay students and we congratulate her.
As part of the award- whose previous winners include Michael Moore, comedian Bill Maher, and the late columnist Molly Ivins- Gillman will receive a $10,000 award that she plans to use towards college:
I thank the Playboy Foundation for the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. With the support of my parents and family I chose to protect the First Amendment rights of my classmates who support equal rights for gay people. Standing up to my school was really hard to do, but I'm so happy that I did, because the First Amendment is a big deal to everyone. I am grateful to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida for defending me.
Standing up has indeed been hard. As I posted about before in "Remember the Anti-Gay Florida Principle? He's now a Local Hero", Gillman and her family have been harassed in their small community since the very public case. Worse still, Davis is still involved in the life of students, having been "demoted" from principal to a teacher.
I applaud Heather Gillman for her bravery. If anyone deserves this award, it is her. She has stood up not only for herself, but for all of us.