Congratulations to Heather Gillman!

TOPIC: free speech

Surfing around looking for recent news/updates on the recent litigation involving Florida's Okeechobee High School and its efforts to suppress student efforts to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club (efforts that eventually failed spectacularly, by the way — see earlier commentary here), and I was reminded of the related events involving Ponce de Leon High School, then-principal David Davis, and Ponce de Leon High School senior Heather Gillman, which then led to this pleasant discovery [for the original, click here]:

Florida High School Student Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award (10/20/2008)

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

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

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.

Wow. Way to go, Heather!

The 9/24/2008 press release from the Playboy Foundation notes that the First Amendment Awards were bestowed this year on just three recipients from a record number of 60 nominees,

… ranging from law professors to website creators to student journalists and representing both traditional and digital means of expression. The winners were chosen by a panel of distinguished judges: David M. Rubin, Professor and former Dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University; Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at University of Chicago Law School, and Nadine Strossen, President of the American Civil Liberties Union and Professor of Law at New York Law School.

The Playboy Foundation praised Gillman for her "fearlessness in speaking out on behalf of the rights of gay students."

This puts 17-yr-old high school senior Heather Gillam in quite distinguished company. Former recipients include film-maker and activist Michael Moore and columnist Molly Ivins. This year's recipients also included New-York-based attorney Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), recognized for "his tireless efforts to defend First Amendment rights of students and faculty," and Mark Klein, a retired AT&T technician, recognized for his courage in speaking out against electronic surveillance of American citizens by our own government.


Florida High School Student Wins Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award (10/20/2008): Senior Heather Gillman Honored for Fearlessness In Speaking Out For the Rights of Gay and Lesbian Students. Accessed 10/24/2008 at http://www.aclu.org/freespeech/youth/37255prs20081020.html

Hudson, Waymon (10/23/2008). FL Student Heather Gillman Honored for Speaking Out for LGBT Rights. Accessed 10/24/2008 at http://florida.bilerico.com/2008/10/fl_student_heather_gillman_honored_for_s.php

The Playboy Foundation. Web site accessed 10/24/2008 at http://www.playboyenterprises.com/home/content.cfm?content=t_template&packet=0007B308-45F5-1C7D-9B578304E50A011A&artTypeID=0007B451-BB99-1C76-8FEA8304E50A010D

Ponce de Leon Senior Wins $10,000 Hugh Hefner Award. (10/16/2008). Accessed 10/24/2008 at http://www.wtvynews4.com/home/headlines/31126474.html.