A growing number of American high schools are rejecting gendered language of ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ in ceremonies to celebrate all students
When 17-year-old Trevor Meyer made history as his school’s first gender-fluid homecoming queen, his mind was elsewhere. “I’m super nervous,” he said in a televised interview, “and I really have to pee!” Meyer, who clarifies that he is “cool with any pronoun,” won the coveted title after friends at Clovis East High launched an online campaign with pictures from his drag Instagram account. These were shared with the caption: “Shouldn’t the Queen be a queen?”
Meyer isn’t the only teen changing the face of homecoming ceremonies. Late last month, Memphis-based high school senior Brandon Allen made international headlines for accepting his title in a floor-length, sequined dress. “Some people were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to win’,” he tells me over the phone, “but I really didn’t know!” The shock – and joy – of the victory is written across his face in the heartwarming clip, which racked up thousands of likes when his school shared it on its official Facebook page.
Earlier this year, 17-year-old trans student Charlie Baum spoke of overcoming death threats and public humiliation to win her crown. “Winning never seemed feasible,” she said to PinkNews at the time. “This let me know that I have a shot at normalcy – and royalty.” Ultimately, the notion that homecoming crowns should only be dished out to cisgender students is starting to disappear. Trans queens are finally being recognised, and elsewhere a series of ’homecoming royalty’ ceremonies are making space for gender non-conforming teens by moving away from gendered language.
At Ohio’s Milford High School, the shift towards ‘royalty’ was driven by students and introduced as part of plans to send a message of acceptance. Principal Josh Kauffman states that the gender-neutral language is intended to make students feel, “safe, welcome and accepted”. This year the school cast gender aside, awarding the title to the two students with the most votes instead. Abbey Stropes and Trinity Miller won the inaugural crowns, marking a new chapter in the school’s history.
In Allen’s case, his school actively switched to gender-neutral language after granting him permission to run. “I didn’t expect that, but it’s definitely a positive change,” he says. In other words, his decision to stand for the title made a genuine impact making him somewhat of a trailblazer. “I guess you could say that, yeah!” Allen laughs modestly.
The archetype of the ’homecoming queen’ has been under scrutiny ever since Lindsay Lohan ripped apart her plastic tiara in Mean Girls, but a shift towards more inclusive language makes sense: research consistently shows that today’s generation is queerer than ever, identifying across an entire spectrum of gender identity and sexuality.
“I have had a mixed reaction online. There are definitely some people that haven’t been happy about me winning, but I love that they’re talking about me anyway because it opens the door for this conversation”– Trevor Meyer
Figureheads like Meyer, Baum and Allen are paving the way for a more progressive homecoming future, but visibility comes with its own consequences. “I have had a mixed reaction online,” Meyer says. “There are definitely some people that haven’t been happy about me winning, but I love that they’re talking about me anyway because it opens the door for this conversation.” Allen was similarly warned by his teacher that he was sparking a big change. “He told me it would be hard, and to be ready for it,” he recalls. “I’ve always liked to be the centre of attention though, so I’m happy about that! I just really don’t pay attention to negativity, so I don’t know what’s been going on there. I’m good.”
Reassuringly, Twitter has been filled with praise for both students. Meyer’s friends in particular have shared how proud they are, with fellow student Ali sharing via direct message that, despite their school’s “performing arts program (being) generally very accepting and loving of the LGBTQ+ community,” there are some kids who “treat people like Trevor rudely, and talk down (to them).” She was one of a handful of students that posted almost daily in support of Meyer and made sure to tell him they had voted, in order to boost his confidence.
Tellingly, both Meyer and Allen are indifferent about pronouns and instead have a relaxed attitude towards gender, which teachers have been keen to explore. “Teachers who have never even taught me have come to tell me how proud and amazed they are,” Meyer tells me with pride. “Some have asked what pronouns I prefer, and if what they have been doing so far is okay. I don’t think everyone understands (what) ’non-binary’ (means), but I definitely think they’re starting to become aware. They want to learn and become more accepting.”
These conversations are still crucial, especially in the wider context of statistics around LGBTQ+ bullying. GLAAD surveyed US students and found that a staggering 87 per cent had been bullied at school and that 59 per cent felt unsafe specifically because of their sexual orientation. By leaning into the glitz and glamour of homecoming culture, gender non-conforming teens are earning themselves fans across the world and challenging notions of what high school royalty should look like.
By switching to gender-neutral terms and making efforts to celebrate trans and gender non-conforming students, schools are subverting one of pop culture’s most heavily-gendered titles. “I am definitely seeing more stories like this, and they’re definitely a step in the right direction,” Meyer concludes. “Even if what people are saying isn’t positive, they’re still talking about it. Hopefully, that leads to more tolerance.”