Prom courts challenge gender and sexuality stereotypes

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If you want to know what today’s teens think about gender and sexuality, look no further than the prom coronation show. In Mississippi, a lesbian couple lobbied to become prom king and queen. In Georgia, the class president, who is gay, started a petition to change prom court titles to the more inclusive “Prom Royalty”. transgender students are pushing schools to reimagine what teenage nobility looks like.

Prom has always been a bastion of stereotypical gender roles. The girl in a beautiful dress, the boy in a tuxedo. The prom king is a guy, the prom queen is a girl. But in 2018, more college students are pushing for gender-neutral prom courts, signaling how millennials are dealing with fundamental questions about identity and inclusion.

“Prom reflected American adolescence, and it generally contains and amplifies the characteristics of anything that’s going on with that age range at the time. As the millennium has changed, and we’re in a different generation now, there’s just a lot more acceptance of gender fluidity,” said Ann Anderson, author of High School Prom: Marketing, Morality, and the American Adolescent.

Carter Hebert, a senior from Chattahoochee High School in Johns Creek, Georgia, was nominated for homecoming king along with her former boyfriend. The school’s current voting process allows for a man and a woman to win, but Hebert said the two wanted to be able to win together, as a couple.

Hebert, who is class president, said the school has a history of inclusivity, so when they presented their request to the administration, they were stunned that it was not granted. Hebert said the school cited “tradition” as well as time constraints. He said he was “confused” and “upset” by the response.

A statement from the school district said that “because appointments have been made and the process is ongoing, the school administration is unable to make any changes at this time.” To formally change the process, he said, student leaders would have to submit a proposal.

Hebert, who started a petition on Change.org (with now nearly 5,000 signatures) to change the court’s titles from ‘prom king and queen’ to ‘prom royalty’, said he is now diverting his efforts from this year’s prom modification – which will take place next week – and towards a more inclusive ball court for future classes.

“What we were hoping for was to bring change not just for our school, but for schools across the country,” he said.

Hébert’s school is one of many struggling to adapt to changing attitudes towards gender. But some students want their schools to move faster.

When Al Martinez, a transgender teenager from Brooke Point High in Stafford, Va., was nominated for this year’s homecoming king, he said the school called his parents to make sure they were safe. OK. He said he found the call disturbing because he imagined what could happen to a student who was not “out” at home. He also didn’t think it was necessary for his parents to “approve” of his gender identity or expression.

“It’s not their decision in the end,” he said, “and it shouldn’t be.”

USA TODAY has reached out to Brooke Point High for comment, but they have not responded at press time.

There are still parts of the country where prom ideas are firmly entrenched. Parts of the country where girls are banned from wearing costumes, gay proms are unheard of, and gay dates are out of the question. But as more teens embrace gender fluidity and be open about their sexual orientation, more schools will be forced to consider how certain prom traditions may need updating.

If prom is a rehearsal for life, as Anderson said, some suggest, then many teenagers are sending clear signals about the kind of world they would like to live in as adults.

“We just want the same opportunities,” Hebert said. “We want equality. We understand that you may not have the same opinions as us, you may not understand what we are going through, but we just want you to be open and give us the opportunities that you all have.”

Other things you might be interested in:

AN ERA OF SOCIAL MEDIA: Smartphones crush prom night

PROPOSALS: Teens use ‘Fortnite’ to ask for prom dates

VIRAL VIDEO: Why a Georgian student arrived at prom in a coffin

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