WASHINGTON – Former Miss California Carrie Prejean told a crowd of social conservatives Friday that she was a varsity jock in high school who got into beauty pageants just knowing that she is a strong woman with values.
Her strength has carried her through the "junk" that followed after she responded during the Miss USA pageant that she believes marriage is between a man and a woman, she said.
"There was something wrong with turning on the TV and seeing people mock me for my faith. For seeing people make fun of me for the answer I gave. Making fun of me for being a Christian," said Prejean at the Values Voter Summit Friday. "It didn't make sense to me."
Prejean, now 22 years old and a senior at San Diego Christian College, was in the final round of the Miss USA 2009 when openly gay pageant judge Perez Hilton asked her if she believed every U.S. state should legalize same-sex marriage.
She responded that every American can choose what to think on the issue, but in her family they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The pageant finalist added, "no offense to anybody out there. But that's how I was raised and I believe that it should be between a man and a woman."
A storm of protest and verbal abuse from the pro-gay marriage camp against Prejean immediately ensued the pageant.
Though Prejean was named first runner up in the Miss USA 2009 pageant, she was later dethroned as Miss California, with producers of the pageant citing alleged breach of contract. She has denied the claims, and has filed a libel suit maintaining she has been discriminated against for her religious views.
"I have never seen anything like it," Prejean said, "being a 22-year-old college student not really into politics, or I wasn't at the time. But now I have a new outlook. I am disgusted at the way some people can be so intolerant."
She said not only has she been attacked, but her mother has been tabloid fodder while her father and 90-year-old grandmother have also been regularly attacked.
"But you know what, I am here today because I am still standing and I am not defeated," said a defiant Prejean, who some call the new family values spokeswoman. "They have not defeated me."
The 22-year-old, who got the crowd more excited than established politicians featured earlier Friday morning, shared that she was raised by parents who taught her to fear God and show respect to everyone even if they have different views from her. In high school, she described herself as a jock who played four sports, including varsity basketball.
She started entering pageants her senior year of high school when a friend suggested the idea. Her mother had been hesitant about the idea, but she recalled assuring her mother that "it was a competition and I love competition [and] I love to win" and that she didn't need to wear a bathing suit.
Her success in pageants brought her to the final round of the Miss USA competition, where on that fateful night she chose to give up her chances of being Miss USA and competing in Miss Universe to stand up for her values.
"I'm not a hater of anyone. This is not about me being a bigot, a racist, or whatever you want to call me," Prejean said. "It is just that I am a woman who stood up for the truth and people don't want to admit that.
She added, "Even though I didn't win the crown that night, I know the Lord has so much of a bigger crown in heaven for me."
Her book about her experience with the Miss USA pageant, entitled Still Standing, is set to be released in November.