Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, known for her stand on sexual abstinence, which raised the ire of the pageant officials, is speaking at the Washington D.C. Visitors’ Center Saturday, February 28, as part of an Interfaith Conference on “Defending Marriage & The Family: By Faith & By Reason.
Even in the midst of a hectic work schedule in the days leading up to the 2003 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, Erika Harold knew what was most important in life. She and a few of her sister contestants still found time to have Bible study and to pray together.
And when she was crowned Miss America 2003, Erika stated, “I am issuing a national call to action. . . . As a role model, I will encourage young people to abstain from drugs, sex and alcohol and explain how this commitment helped me to protect, respect and define myself.”
Erika Harold will be one of the presenters this coming Saturday, February 28, at the Interfaith Conference on “Defending Marriage & The Family: By Faith & By Reason,” to be held at the Washington Temple Visitors Center in Kensington, Maryland. (www.marrriageconference.org). Her topic, “Abstinence Education: Affirming Faith, Life and Marriage,” follows the theme she chose as a national speaker during her reign.
Sheri Dew, Michael McLean, Monte Nyman, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and others will also be on the program for the interfaith conference.
Being a national role model hasn’t been easy. The new Miss America immediately came under criticism for her pro-abstinence, pro-life position. One national gay/lesbian organization publicly insisted she issue a statement “clarifying” her pro-abstinence remarks. Even pageant officials told her that, as Miss America, she should limit her public views to campaigning against youth violence.
Conservative commentators came to her defense. “In an age where beauty queens are regularly disqualified for inappropriate behavior, who would have thought a virtuous one would be silenced for her virtue?” said Concerned Women for America’s Sandy Rios.
Erika stood her ground, and soon she was speaking to packed schools, churches, and public auditoriums with a platform of “Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself.” Thousands of teenagers and adults around the country have flocked to hear her message.
She did continue to speak out against bullying and violence. “I was a victim of racial and sexual harassment in the ninth grade,” she explains. “When you allow it to go unchecked at that time, you send a message that it’s appropriate and it can just escalate in high school.” At the same time, she has refused to back down in her efforts to persuade young people to commit themselves to sexual purity.
Erika is committed to making a difference. “It is incumbent upon each person to be involved in the democratic process and to be an agent for change,” she says.
She is willing to do more than just talk about the issues. Last month, in what could mark the start of a political career, Erika Harold became an Illinois delegate to the Republican National Convention. Next month, a few days after her presentation at the Interfaith Conference on Defending Marriage and The Family, she has an appointment to visit the residents at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
The controversy, of course, continues. “She is among the who’s who of right-wing advocates,” says the liberal group People for the American Way. Clearly, Erika Harold is a young woman to be watched.
A 2001 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Illinois with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and pre-law, Erika has been accepted into Harvard Law School. She has also studied voice for the past six years, performing arias and art songs in six languages. The former Miss America will be singing onstage with Michael and Jeff Lean – and speaking — at the February 28 marriage conference.