Now that I’ve stepped down from my soapbox over the issue of what restrooms we may or may not be able to use, I want to talk up a couple of nice developments surrounding a school tradition: Homecoming. I have previously gone on the record here as saying that I never went to homecoming or any other school dances when I was a teenager. It wasn’t just because I was never a great dancer (and I’m still not one as an adult); I was awkward and not very sociable back then, worrying about my school grades more than some dance. That’s not to say I ever disdained the homecoming or prom traditions, nor did I ever dissuade anyone from taking part. There’s still a part of me that wishes I had gone to the dances back then, even if I had preferred to be the wallflower and stay on the sidelines. There’s also a part of me that wishes I could’ve attended the dance as Allison. No, I probably wouldn’t have been the best dressed girl at the dance, but considering the traditional community my hometown was then and still is now, I would definitely have made a significant statement.
Times have changed between the 1980s and 2015, and these days many schools and the students who go there are more open towards those who do not conform to traditional gender identities or sexual preferences. That includes official student functions such has the homecoming dance. There’s clear proof of that here in Madison, where students at Madison West High School have initiated a change in their homecoming tradition: Next week, Madison West’s homecoming court will be gender-neutral, a move intended to make the school and its homecoming more open and welcoming to those who do not fit within the set gender binary.
It will go like this: In prior years, Madison West’s homecoming court consisted of 10 boys and 10 girls, with a king and queen selected among them. Next week, however, the court will include the top 20 vote-getters among the senior class. The top two among that twenty, regardless of the gender they present themselves as, will be elevated to homecoming royalty. Those two will only be called “king” or “queen” if they choose those titles. That’s not to say they won’t have some sort of a title; one cool title idea suggested by students, according to this Wisconsin State Journal article, is that of “Regent Rulers,” a nod to the nickname of Madison West’s athletics teams, the Regents. That is a rather apropos title, especially when you consider that the title “regent” is actually used in some situations in the monarchy system.
As noted above, the move toward a gender-neutral homecoming court at Madison West was initiated last spring, when students presented to school principal Beth Thompson a petition, signed by approximately 1,000 school students and faculty, to recommend the change. The school administrators, after discussions with student leaders, would eventually give the move their blessing, and intend to extend it to the school’s other royalty-based functions (i.e. mid-winter dance and prom). The belief of the petitioners was basically this: We’re the largest high school in the Madison school system, and we have LGBT members of the student body who deserve to be just as valued and recognized as those who conform to traditional gender traits. So, if we see our school as a “progressive trailblazer,” why not make this move now?
Those who submitted the original petition included supporting documents, in which they noted their discovery of three other high schools and two colleges in the U.S. that have already gone gender-neutral with their homecoming courts. Among those schools is a high school in Michigan that made the move in 2011, one year after administrators spoiled ballots that selected a trans male student as homecoming king.
So, count Madison West among the very few schools in the country to go gender-neutral with their homecoming courts (and possibly the first high school in Wisconsin). But is it a trend? Well, “trend” has become too easy of a term to describe something significant these days. Even this Madison TV report describes what Madison West is doing as “a trend that’s popping up across the country.” That quote makes it sound like it’s just some fad diet or viral video — something that just makes you think, “yeah, whatever” without taking the time to comprehend the gravity of the moment.
How about calling gender-neutral homecoming something more significant: Common sense. In an era where the LGBT community have gained lots of cultural and legal acceptance, but there are still some resistance from older, less accepting generations (as my last post so sadly proved), opening homecoming court to the gender- and sexuality-fluid is a very good move. Even if Madison West’s court is made up of 10 males and 10 females as before, giving nonconformists the chance to gain seats on that court can give so much confidence to a group that are still facing resistance (as, again, my last post so sadly proves).
But then… perhaps this is some sort of a trend… or, better yet, a “common sense trend.” I mean, other schools here in Wisconsin, albeit institutions of higher learning, are making similar moves. For this weekend’s festivities, the University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire, in the western part of the state, has abandoned the traditional “king” and “queen” titles in favor of simply “homecoming royalty,” thanks to a vote of the school’s festival committee (at the suggestion of the student body). Even the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh and Ripon College, both in eastern Wisconsin, have reportedly made the same move, while UW—Stout may make the same move next year. (Wow, I must confess I never knew colleges selected homecoming royalty just like high schools do.)
So, if you’re reading this in Madison or Eau Claire or wherever else young student bodies are taking progressive steps such as this to welcome their gender- and sexuality-fluid peers, take time to appreciate how forward thinking these kids are. Is this a new thing? Well, yes. Does it buck tradition? Well, sure. Is it welcoming to all? Pretty much, yeah. Is it a big thing? Well, maybe not yet as big as one would believe. Consider this: In a 2012 survey, only 1.5% of Dane County school students identified themselves as transgender. A small number, sure, but consider this quote from a student council member at Madison West: “This is a change that is unlikely to affect a lot of people, but [for] the people it does affect, it affects [them] in a really powerful way.”