Florida High School Student Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 20, 2008 12:00 am

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Senior Heather Gillman Honored for Fearlessness In Speaking Out For the Rights of Gay and Lesbian Students

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MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida announces 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 her Ponce de Leon high school, located in Florida’s Panhandle.

Gillman sued her school after her high school principal discriminated against her gay and lesbian friends. At trial, the principal testified that he believed clothing or stickers featuring rainbows would make students automatically picture people having sex, and he forbade students from wearing any sort of clothing, stickers, buttons, or symbols to show her support of equal rights for gay people.

“Heather Gillman is a courageous young woman who is most deserving of this very prestigious First Amendment award,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director, ACLU of Florida. 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.”

Tomorrow, Gillman and her Mother Ardena will travel to Washington D.C. to be honored at the October 21 awards ceremony where she will receive her $10,000 award to pursue education.

“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,” said Gillman.

The day after being reprimanded for defending a gay student who had been harassed she returned to school wearing symbols of support including the rainbow flag and the initials G P for “gay pride.” She was told by her school principal that she was not allowed to express any support for gay rights because it would be “disruptive,” and that the symbols were signs of a “secret/illegal organization.”

Past recipients of the First Amendment Award include filmmaker Michael Moore, comedian Bill Maher, and the late columnist Molly Ivins.

About the ACLU of Florida

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida is freedom’s watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our Web site at: www.aclufl.org.

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