An interview with Constance McMillen

This Sunday, Lifetime’s hit show Drop Dead Diva will air an episode (“The Prom”) loosely based on Constance McMillen‘s brave battle with her community and school district to attend her senior prom with a female date. As part of our coverage of the episode, AfterEllen.com had the chance to interview McMillen. The conversation was a clear reminder that, despite her youth, she has already become a leading force in the ongoing battle for change.

AfterEllen.com: Obviously
you’ve received a lot of press and support during the whole prom
debacle, but did you ever think your personal story would get so big that it would be portrayed on television?

Constance McMillen: Um, no. [Laughs] I really had no idea it was going to end up like that.
In the beginning of all this, the ACLU had said they had seen cases
like mine all the time. So they would just send a demand letter and the
school would just change the policy. So that’s how I thought mine was
going to go. Then when prom was canceled, the next morning I was on CNN and it just escalated from there. So no, in the beginning I had no idea
it was going to get as big as it did, much less be on TV.


AE: I found out about your story via
Facebook, by joining the “Let Constance Go to Prom” Facebook group. Do
you think social media played a big role in getting a lot of people to
support your cause? What do you think separated your experience from the
rest and brought it more coverage?

CM: Well, really I think the media coverage had a lot to do with it, but I
know that the Drop Dead Diva episode that’s going to air — I’m sure
that’s going to bring a lot more attention to it. Really, I just think
there was so much media surrounding it — I mean, I did so many
interviews. It was just crazy. And then Facebook — it was just all a
bunch of people working together and helping to get my story out there.

AE: Have you felt pressure at all, kind of
being the face and the name of this — I would call it a movement — for
gay teens?

CM: I guess I do feel more pressure but it doesn’t matter to me. I like the
pressure because I know I’m going to be fighting the same fight and
lobbying for our rights and supporting the same cause and advocating
for all the things I believe in. But yes, I do feel the pressure
because people expect big things.

AE: What was it like to be in the room as
an extra during some of the court scenes?

CM: It was crazy, really exciting. I didn’t want to mess anything
up. [Laughs] Hearing the
dialogue in the court room and knowing it was inspired by my story was
pretty exciting, I’m not gonna lie. It was really cool to be a part of.

AE: Did it bring back any bad memories?
CM: No, I really have a positive outlook on things. I mean, looking back at
the way things were and then thinking about my future — I still deal
with some things, but it’s paid off so much in the end that it doesn’t
really hurt as bad. It’s not as hard to think about anymore. I’ve moved
on and I’m doing bigger things, and I’m moving forward with my life.

I
was just happy because I knew the episode was going to be good and I
knew other people would be watching it and it’s going to be reaching
more people, so I’m really excited about that.

AE: How close to your own story was this?
CM: Well, I don’t really know. I haven’t seen the episode yet, I just know
it was based on my story and I was just there on set for a
few scenes while they were taping it. I’m excited to see it, though!

AE: Well I’ve seen it and it’s a really
good episode. I mean, I watch the show anyway so obviously I’m a fan,
but I think you’ll be really happy with it. Lance Bass is one of the
guest stars and I was just told that he donated money for you to have
your own prom. What did that end up being like?

CM: Actually he donated money to the MSSC (Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition) Second
Annual Second Chance Prom, which I did attend. He donated money and
Green Day donated money, a few people did. I met Lance at the prom,
but when I found out he was going to be in this episode of Drop Dead
Diva
, I was hoping to see him again. But he ended up shooting on a different
day.

AE: So how did that (real life) prom party turn out?
I’d imagine it was a lot of fun.

CM: Oh yeah, it was great. There was lots of people, a great buffet and
really cool bands. We partied — we had a really, really good prom. It
was amazing; it really was.

AE: What do you hope viewers get from
watching this episode?

CM: I hope that they’re inspired. I hope they understand what people who are discriminated against go
through,
how it makes them feel. And I hope that the people who face discrimination will decide to stand
up for themselves. I hope they’re inspired to make a difference and
make a change, not to just take “no” for an answer. I just hope the story
reaches a lot of people and helps them.

AE: What have you been up to lately and
has the world been a friendlier place for you since graduating?

CM: Well, I still live in my hometown, so it’s not really that great of an
environment around here. But I guess it’s gotten a little better. I mean
it’s been about a year, so some people have calmed down a little bit. A
lot of people still don’t like me around here, but I’m going to
college an hour away and I’m starting my second semester majoring in
psychology. I’ve also been speaking at places and received an award
from the ACLU recently. I’m just trying to move on and do stuff.
[Laughs] During school, I’m just trying to concentrate on my school
work, but I believe I’m going to be starting to do more public speaking.

McMillen at the 2010 New York City Gay Pride March


AE: Have you been able to find other gay
people at your college and start anything? It surprises me that people
are still being asses for the most part.

CM: You know, I’ve thought about it, and it’s not really that they were mean — it’s that they’re ignorant and just don’t understand.
In small towns like mine, there’s zero exposure to stuff like
this, and any bit of exposure they get is crushed down by the
church, pretty much.

So, really, I feel sorry for them. They just
don’t know any better and they haven’t educated themselves. I’ve met
some friends in college and there’s a smaller gay community there and
people I hang out with and talk to. So I’m doing pretty well!

AE: I was lucky enough to grow up in a
more liberal area, but I’m also very quick to anger (and drop many
f-bombs) when it comes to injustice. How do you stay so strong and positive?

CM: Well, don’t get me wrong, during all the prom stuff there were times
when I was mad. There were times when I was crying and just wanted to
stop and give up and didn’t think it was worth it. My life just went
crazy there for a little while; it really did. Everything was happening
so fast — extremely good things and extremely bad things, all in the
same day. But the thing that I learned, when I was upset and when I was
mad, was that there was no point in being upset about it.

After everything
played out, it’s just really easy for me to look back and say
everything was worth it. We won and we made a difference. We changed
the way things work.

Part of the settlement was that they had to
instill an anti-discrimination policy in my school to include sexual
orientation and gender identity — and it was the first one ever in
Mississippi. That right there is one great thing that came out of it. And it’s a federal law now, so that’s another great thing that came out
of it. So many people that have messaged me and told me
how much it’s changed their lives. I’ve seen so many people lately
standing up for themselves, saying they’re not going to take this. I
mean, I’m not taking the credit for any of that, it’s all their doing,
but I’m just so happy to be seeing all of this taking place right now.
So that’s how I’ve stayed positive, I just know it was totally worth it.

I just want everyone to know, when people are dumb and they
discriminate against you, they hate on you and they try to bring you
down and make you feel like you aren’t worth anything because you’re
different — that’s the point when you have to decide you’re not going
to get mad, you’re not going to fight with these people, you’re not
going to let these people get you down. Instead, focus more and put all
that negative energy towards educating those people and educating other
people. Make sure, any chance you get, that you educate someone about this. Because I honestly think the biggest reason people hate and are violent
and discriminate and cause other people to kill themselves is because
they’re ignorant and they just need to learn more about it.

“The Prom” episode of Drop Dead Diva airs Sunday night on Lifetime.

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