Miss America: The Rest of the Story

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You’ve heard about the spat between the two Miss North Carolinas, taking their tiara tussle to court for a chance to compete in the Miss America pageant. But have you heard about Miss Illinois Erika Harold, who actually captured the crown?

It seems Miss Harold is at the center of something a lot more scandalous than topless photos, something so racy, that much of the press won’t even touch it with a ten-foot pole.

Miss Harold is into abstinence.

As a University of Illinois graduate with plans to attend Harvard Law School and practice public policy law, Miss Harold partnered with Project Reality, an Illinois-based nonprofit centered on abstinence education, and with Abstinence Clearinghouse, a national educational organization that promotes abstinence.

“She came to us four years ago,” said Libby Gray of Project Reality. “She was running for Miss Illinois and wanted to focus on abstinence. She found us and actually she’s helped us to find the other pageant winners” that had abstinence as their platforMiss

Having spoken to thousands of teens in classrooms, at abstinence fairs, rallies, and even a correctional facility, the 22-year-old won Miss Illinois with the platform: Teenage Sexual Abstinence: “Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself.”

Miss Harold has traveled more than once to Washington D.C. to lobby legislators for an increase in abstinence-until-marriage program funding. Just this summer she submitted written testimony on behalf of Title V abstinence education legislation to the House Ways and Means Committee. She also met personally with Rep. John Shimkus (R-Il), Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), Rep. Bob Schaefer (R-CO) and Deputy Secretary of Human Services Claude Allen.

The influence she and other titleholders have had on members of Congress has been quite noteworthy.

“They are wonderful because they’re young, they’re in touch with young people all the time,” said Michael Schwartz, Concerned Women for America’s Vice President of Government Relations.

“These are winners, and I don’t mean they came in first at a beauty pageant,” said Schwartz, who worked with Miss Harold in 1999 while she was lobbying legislators. “When they give their testimony about how good abstinence is, they’re very convincing.”

Once she won the Miss Illinois title in June, Miss Harold was required to adopt the state platform of youth violence prevention. But instead of tossing her abstinence message aside, she thoughtfully wove the two platforms together.

“Working with the media, obviously they’re going to cover the platform that she has,” said Gray. “The media won’t always ask the right questions, but hopefully Erika will bring those issues to the forefront. She’ll be able to weave (abstinence) in.”

Gray does believe that the media is warming up to the idea of abstinence, pointing to Miss Wisconsin 1999 Mary Louis Kurey, another Project Reality spokesperson who was asked several times to appear on Politically Incorrect.

“Each time it was harder and harder to convince the audience that she wasn’t believable,” said Gray.

Leslee Unruh, president and founder of Abstinence Clearinghouse, agrees. Having nearly 3,000 affiliated organizations worldwide, the Clearinghouse fields over 10,000 abstinence questions each year and sees the media coming around.

“They are responding very well to the message,” said Unruh. “Television networks, magazines, news shows, and even Hollywood producers have contacted us for information on the benefits of abstinence, abstinence education and people willing to be interviewed on their choice for sexual purity.”

For all the strides that abstinence has made, groups like the Clearinghouse and Project Reality are poised for more attention, now that a strong advocate for abstinence has captured the crown.

“Here’s a young, multiethnic woman with conservative values who is able to reach a wide audience with her methods,” said Gray. “She’s very approachable so when it comes to speaking on tough issues, I think she’ll win people over.”

Media included.

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