Florida Student Who Won ACLU Lawsuit Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
October 21, 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

CONTACT: media@aclufl.org

MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union announced today 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 won a 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. 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 of the 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."

This week, Gillman and her mother will travel to Washington, D.C. to be honored at the October 21 awards ceremony where she 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," said Gillman.

The day after being reprimanded for defending a gay student who had been harassed, Gillman 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."

On May 13, 2008, the United States District Court, Northern District of Florida, Panama City Division, ordered the school to stop its unconstitutional censorship of students who want to express their support for the fair and equal treatment of gay people. The judge also warned the district not to retaliate against students over the lawsuit.

Gillman won the award in a year in which a record number of nominations – over 60 – were received by the Playboy Foundation. The Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards were created in 1979 to honor individuals who have contributed significantly to the vital effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for Americans. Since then, more than 125 advocates for First Amendment freedoms have been recognized with the awards. Past recipients of the First Amendment Award include filmmaker Michael Moore, comedian Bill Maher, and the late columnist Molly Ivins.

More information about the lawsuit, Gillman v. Holmes County School District, can be found at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/youth/33859res20080131.html.

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