The annually crowned homecoming king and queen is a ritual at most high schools. But tradition hasn’t stopped one Wisconsin high school for doing away with gender-specific homecoming royalty for a truly wonderful reason.
Madison West High School just dropped the titles of “king” and “queen,” making itself one of the few in the country to do so. The change, which resulted after a petition garnered about half of the student body’s signatures, initiated earlier this month, and meant that for yesterday’s homecoming, the court wasn’t comprised of ten female and ten male students but rather 20 of the top “vote-getters” in the senior class, principal Beth Thompson told Wisconsin State Journal.
Those who are chosen for the court will not be called “king” or “queen” until they choose titles, which is intended to make the school feel more welcome for non-gender-binary and transgender students. The alternate title suggested by the students is “Regent Royalty,” which plays off their school’s symbol — a crown. “I think this gets us closer on a whole variety of fronts to making each and every student in our building feel like a valued, recognized member of our community,” Thompson told Wisconsin State Journal.
The petition was started by several students, including 16-year-old Arwen Sadler, who researched other schools that had adopted gender-neutral courts and approached Thompson. “The main problem that we saw was that it was exclusively binary gender and non-binary people couldn’t be elected or [could] only be elected as the wrong gender, which would be extremely invalidating,” Sadler, a junior with a non-binary gender identity, told The Guardian.
“Sometimes I identify as a girl, sometimes as a boy,” Sadler told Wisconsin State Journal. “For me personally to have this statement from the school is really affirming and validating.”
The petition had close to 1,000 student signatures — quite a feat, considering that the population of Madison West is 2,065 — and Thompson followed up on the success by assembling a group of student leaders, which led to “some really deep discussions” on moving forward. The new process will likely be used for the school’s mid-winter dance and prom.
“This really was a lengthy process we went through, and we’ll evaluate it through this first go-round,” Thompson told Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s really an experiment to think more progressively and inclusively.”
For 17-year-old Kate Scholz, senior and officer on student council, the experiment in progressiveness was a success. “In that way it creates a stronger community because we want everybody to be comfortable sharing their ideas and their identities,” she explained to The Guardian.
“No one should be forced to [declare themselves male or female],” she told Wisconsin State Journal. “This is a change that is unlikely to affect a lot of people, but the people it does affect, it affects in a really powerful way.”
There was some backlash initially, but that’s to be expected until people get used to such a big change, Thompson explained. “It was just kind of changing people’s thinking on the labelling and whatever terms we use, it is still extremely special,” she told The Guardian. “You are the two top vote getters. Changing the mindset really is an underlying force behind this, so for me changing the title is important.”
On Friday, the school debuted its first gender-neutral homecoming court at the dance. “I’m so proud of West for how far we’ve come,” homecoming court student Nanceny Fanny told NBC 15. “Really in high school it’s a time to find yourself and find who you are and I believe, if everyone feels like they’re welcome, and they’re excited and they’re like ‘Oh I could win homecoming court, I could be on court.’ I feel like everyone would feel more welcomed and have a better high school experience.”
We applaud Madison West for their trail-blazing efforts — both the students, for working so hard on a petition for such an amazing cause, and principal Beth Thompson, who welcomed the change with open arms. This fight for inclusivity not only made this school a better place for students and community members who don’t identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, but also brought the entire student body closer together. We can only hope more schools follow suit.
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