This is my last day at the ACLU of Mississippi, and it is a bittersweet moment for me. Working at the ACLU has been an amazing opportunity to be part of systemic change and at the same time impact individual lives.

When I first started at the ACLU of Mississippi, we were in the middle of the Constance McMillen case. Constance wanted what most teenagers want, to go to the prom. My friends and family from outside Mississippi asked excitedly, “will you get to be Constance’s lawyer?” It seemed as if the whole world was watching Mississippi at that moment. Although my time as one of Constance’s lawyers was brief, the amazing legal team that worked on the case helped Constance make history. For the first time, in Mississippi a school added gender identity and sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination policy. A federal judge found that the school’s actions had violated Constance’s constitutional rights.

This victory was not for Constance alone, I have seen the impact it has made for LGBT youth across the state. The Weston Attendance center said to Ceara Sturgis, “tuxes for Boys, drapes for girls,” and refused to allow her to put her senior picture in a tuxedo in the yearbook. She settled her lawsuit against the school and they changed their policy prohibiting female students from wearing a tuxedo for their senior picture in the yearbook. Leah Walton, a transgender student, was able to come to an agreement with her school that allowed her come to school dressed in feminine clothing to match her gender identity. The school board attorney warned the school that if Leah filed a lawsuit in federal court, it would most likely be in front of the same judge who ruled in the Constance McMillen case. Thanks to the hard work of the ACLU and the bravery of students like Constance and Ceara, when Leah walked across the stage at graduation, the school board president called out the name that matchers her gender identity.

At the same time, the legal team was fighting for Constance in court, the advocates at ACLU-MS were working with youth in communities. They helped students start Gay Straight Alliances. ACLU-MS mentored a group of students as they started theMississippi Safe School Coalition, and then watched with great pride as they launched an independent organization lead by students, for students. Our Prom Watch Campaign is off and running for the 2014 prom season and our advocates and lawyers stand ready to ensure that the legacy of Constance and Ceara and Leah lives on for every student.

We can see the impact of this integrated advocacy approach in every one of ACLU-MS’s centers of focus. Our legal work in criminal justice reform is paired with regional forums that educate and activate our allies and partners. Our school to prison pipeline work has brought students and parents from across the state together to plan and strategize for change, while our lawyers have worked to keep individual students in school when their due process rights were violated.

I am proud of our accomplishments at the ACLU of Mississippi, and I look forward to an ongoing partnership with the new Legal Director and the ACLU-MS team. My work here has highlighted places where there is great disparity in our state, none greater than in the criminal justice system. I started my legal career as a public defender and I am ready to return to my roots in criminal defense. I believe that I can continue to make systemic change and at the same time ensure that more people get the fair trial envisioned by our Constitution.