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Slowly but surely, each new homecoming season brings additional reports of more U.S. high schools and colleges crowning transgender and genderqueer students to their homecoming court.
Schools in California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas, and even Virginia have recently seen shining moments of trans inclusion. While the school year doesn't present many opportunities for an institution to actively demonstrate its commitment to trans equality, after being voted onto the court by their classmates, the royal students themselves often walk away from the moment inspired to keep working for the rights and visibility of LGBT people.
While some may argue that homecoming courts (and for the sake of this list, a couple prom courts) are an outmoded tradition based on gender roles, they clearly also have the ability to affirm trans students' genders, rally a community of supportive youth, and highlight the accomplishments of young trans women and men.
That's a lot to be proud of — for the students themselves and for those who support them. Find out why we're beaming with pride for these 10 young people in the list below.
Blake Brockington, 17, became North Carolina's first out transgender member of a homecoming court in 2013 when he was crowned East Mecklenburg High School's king.
The teen, who had been rejected by his family after coming out as transgender, leading to his placement in a foster home, was all smiles after being crowned his school's homecoming king. "Throughout my life, I haven't always been treated equally as a male, so I've always wanted this, and everybody has told me I couldn't do it," Brockington told Charlotte TV station WCNC. "'You are a girl,' even though I've always identified myself as a male."
The 17-year-old said he hoped that the honor could serve as inspiration for other trans students. "They can be themselves, regardless of what anybody else says," he told WCNC. "Even though you go through some things, and have some negative encounters in your life, anything is possible. You can do anything you set your heart to."
(Parker Marie Malloy contributed to this report)
Cassidy Lynn Campbell
Huntington Beach, Calif.
"I'm so proud to win this not just for me but for everyone out there and for every kid — transgender, gay, straight, black, white, Mexican, Asian. It doesn't matter, you can be yourself," the high school senior told another Los Angeles TV station, KNBC.
Later that week, she won — and became one the first out transgender homecoming queens to receive national media attention. She also received some vitriolic backlash on social media, and used the occasion to bring attention to antitrans bullying, including posing in a photo for the No H8 campaign.
Sugar Land, Texas
Mel Gonzalez, 17, was voted homecoming king of Stephen F. Austin High School earlier this year.
Days before his win was announced, Fiona Dawson, producer of the documentary series TransMilitary, reported that Gonzalez had written a message for his classmates on social media. It read: "I never wanted to make [king] as a popularity contest. Rather, I wanted to prove that an openly transgender male could make court. I don't just want to be your homecoming king — I want to be your female-to-male homecoming king.
"It [may] not be a big deal to you, but this is for my LGBT community, for my Gay-Straight Alliance, and for my underdogs who don't get enough representation. You are capable, so always keep at it."
Colorado Springs, Colo.
Scarlett Lenh, 16, was overwhelmed by the response to being crowned the first out transgender homecoming princess of Sand Creek High School, located in conservative Colorado Springs, earlier this year.
The young woman, who once feared being out as trans, shared with TV station KDRO that she did face some negative reactions, but "for every one person that does not like what I'm doing, I know that there's 100 that support me."
Although she initially didn't expect to be nominated to the court, when she accepted the honor in front of her entire junior class, Lenh shared that the whole experience had come to have a larger meaning for her. "This is something I wanted to do since my freshman year," she told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "I wanted people to be themselves and not feel uncomfortable in their own body and mind."
Ray Ramsey, 16, was elected Concord High School's homecoming king in a "landslide" vote in 2013, according to his senior class adviser, Lisa Lamb. She told the Concord Monitor that Ramsey, an active member of the marching band and theater department, was "a huge part of our school."
"It's a big deal," Concord High's LGBT club adviser, Heather Oullette-Cygan, told the newspaper. "I think it means a lot for our school, it certainly means a lot for the kids in the club and even the LGBT students who aren't necessarily in the club."
"He doesn't fear any repercussions for being completely who he is," added homecoming queen Anna Robert. "And that's one of the most inspirational things about him."
Cedar Falls, Iowa
Steven Sanchez, 21, a communications major at the University of Northern Iowa, became the school's first genderqueer homecoming queen in 2013.
Sanchez, who was assigned male at birth, uses male pronouns, and identifies as both male and female, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, "I am completely speechless — I honestly didn't even think I would win. I am going to do everything I can to continue supporting the LGBT community and encourage everyone to get involved on campus no matter what it is."
Perhaps the only thing better for Cody Tubman than wearing the perfect prom dress was being crowned Middleboro High School's 2013 prom queen. The 16-year-old junior described to Boston's WBZ-TV how being chosen "was kind of like a realization that people are accepting and it doesn't really matter to them. [It] was a good feeling."
Surrounded by supportive family and friends, she used the occassion to give a message to other trans teens: "I want people to understand that you might be in a bad situation, but there's going to be a point where you can look how you want and express yourself."
Jessee Vasold quietly made history back in 2009 as Virginia's first out genderqueer homecoming queen, notes the Daily Press of Newport News. The William and Mary University junior, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns "ze" and "zir," was selected by classmates from a group of women who Vasold described as "wonderful, really friendly."
Soon after Vasold's win was announced, ze spoke with the school newspaper, the Flat Hat, about zir surprise at winning, and the overall supportive response — with a handful of mixed reactions surfacing.
"I've only had people congratulate me," ze recalled. "[But] I know that one of my friends was in a conversation with someone who didn't think that it was fair that I was able to run, because I'm not 'female-bodied.'"
Still, ze was able to take away the silver lining: "It generated a really good conversation, so they were able to talk about a lot of different things."
Andii Viveros, then 17, said she was in "total shock" to hear her name called as prom queen when she stood alongside 14 other contenstants for McFatter Technical High School's 2011 crown. While not exactly homecoming, the prom crown meant just as much to the young woman.
Viveros told reporters she couldn't have done it without the support of her parents, who bought her prom gown and who made sure, according to her father, Oscar, that "in our house [she's] free to act and do whatever makes [her] comfortable." Viveros also thanked her principal, who encouraged her to enter the running and told her, "Stay in the running. Don't back down for anything."
Culver City, Calif.
"For a good five seconds I was speechless, I was thoughtless, I was total blank," said Niko Walker, then 17, of the day he was crowned Culver City High School's 2010 homecoming king. "And then I realized — Hey, I won!"
Like a lot of reigning kings and queens, Walker said he was shocked to be victorious. He told the Culver City Crossroads that he joined the running on impulse and then dropped out, only resuming the nomination after his best friend talked him into it.
"I went for it and, wow, I'm still just so excited. It's a major thrill," he explained. "It's just so great that this is [my high school's] 60th anniversary. … Imagine what the campus, what the culture must have been like 60 years ago, and what we have now."
Every year, the ranks of transgender and genderqueer kings and queens grows. The 10 young adults above deserve to be celebrated — but it should be noted there are countless other trans hopefuls who are runners-up or are blocked from running by their school administrations.
Honorable mentions include: Kasey Caron of Pennsylvania, Josey Herrera of Missouri, Andy Moreno of Texas, Oakleigh Reid of Michigan, Isaak Oliver Wolf of Pennsylvania, and all of the other trans youth with royal aspirations. Our hats are off!