Prom in Mississippi: AHA Leaders and Friends Promote Love Over Hate


May 13, 2010

Leaders and friends of the American Humanist Association were proud to participate in the second annual Second Chance Prom at the Bancorp South Arena in Tupelo, Mississippi. The event, hosted by the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition (MSSC), welcomed LGBT youth and friends, as well as student Constance McMillen and her classmates from Itawamba Agricultural High School. The school had canceled its own prom rather than allow Constance to attend with her girlfriend.

The AHA was a major sponsor of the prom, along with the Grammy-winning band Green Day, chef Cat Cora of The Food Network, the Human Rights Campaign and

AHA leaders in attendance included AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt, Development Director Maggie Ardiente and Field Coordinator Lindsay Gemberling. Also attending were AHA member Todd Stiefel (who with his wife, Diana, made a generous gift of $20,000 to help AHA sponsor the prom) and his friend Robb Taylor, and Diane Griffin of the Institute for Humanist Studies and her partner, Marc Jagoe.

Following a dinner for attendees, an awards ceremony honored several students of the Mississippi Safe School Coalition's Queer Youth Advisory Board and included an appearance by singer and performer Lance Bass (formerly of the popular band ‘N SYNC). Students danced well into the evening to Hey Champ, the Chicago-based rock group, and DJ QuestLove, member of the hip hop band The Roots and house band for the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show.

In a press statement released Tuesday, AHA Executive Director Roy Speckhardt said, "It was wonderful to see this community come together to celebrate and embrace diversity in a welcoming and fun atmosphere. Acceptance and love transcended the bounds of hatred on Saturday night, and I hope all Americans will find value in what has taken shape."

Todd Stiefel, in a report on, also stated, "It was great to be able to participate in a happy ending for the school year for these kids. There is nothing quite like seeing kids being themselves, having fun and showing love and tolerance to one another."

American Humanist Association leaders and friends at the Second Chance Prom in Tupelo, Mississippi. From left to right: Rob Taylor, Todd Stiefel, Lindsay Gemberling, Maggie Ardiente and Roy Speckhardt.

AHA leaders and friends got to meet and mingle with many of the event's organizers, including Matthew Sheffield, communications director for the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition; Ashley Jackson, coordinator of MSSC's Queer Youth Advisory Board; and Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. Another highlight was meeting Candace Gingrich, half sister of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and currently the youth and campus outreach associate director for the Human Rights Campaign.

A number of AHA friends on Facebook were pleased to see us support the Second Chance Prom. Commentator Nathan Wade stated, "The AHA should be extremely proud of the difference you made, not just in those kids' lives but in hopefully making people see how love and positivity always trumps hatred and bigotry in the end. Thank you!"

The American Humanist Association would like to thank Todd and Diana Stiefel for their generous support in helping to make our sponsorship of the Second Chance Prom possible. To view photos from the event, visit our Flickr page at


Maggie Ardiente is the development director for the American Humanist Association and editor of the AHA's membership newsletter, Free Mind.