A Georgia high school has adapted gender-neutral prom court terminology, after receiving public backlash for telling a student he could only run for prom queen because he was born a woman.
Dex Frier, who has identified as transgender since his sophomore year at Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia, was seriously ecstatic when he received one of six coveted nominations for senior prom king, an honor he was beyond excited about. “I was jumping up and down. Me and my best friend were losing our minds, we were so excited,” Frier told CBS affiliate WGCL.
However, school officials told him that because he was assigned female at birth, he could only run for prom queen. He — along with his friends, the student body and others around the world — were not okay with that decision.
Frier and his friends started an online ballot challenging the school’s decision.
My dear friend Dex Frier, a transgender male, was informed by our administrators that the Hall County Board said that Dex could no longer run for prom court as a male. We are very upset that his rights have been revoked. Click this link to sign the petition to fight for him!
— Ashley Dean (@ashleyedeann) March 19, 2019
“Allow transgender boy to run for Prom King,” they dubbed the Change.org ballot, which quickly amassed over 32,000 signatures in a week from individuals around the world supporting their plea for inclusivity.
“Just because I’m not legally male I was going to get excluded from something that every guy has the opportunity to be in high school. It was really upsetting,” Frier, who is often referred to by his teachers with male pronouns, told BuzzFeed on March 21. “As a student I felt I had the right to be put on the ballot.”
He continued: “I don’t know of many trans people who go to this school [but] I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. It hurts being told you don’t deserve the same rights as someone else because you’re not the same as them.”
The administration was hesitant to make the change, but eventually they came to their senses.
On March 23, the school struck a compromise with the student body. They agreed to change the terminology from Prom “King” and “Queen” to simply having two “Royal Knight” seniors, who could be voted in regardless of their gender identity.
“This plan was one of compromise on both sides, and we would like to thank administration, both at the school and county level, for listening and welcoming our concerns ― and most importantly, implementing a plan to address them,” Frier’s friend, Sam Corbett, wrote about the victory on Change.org. “We hope this petition has not only pushed society further towards human rights equality, but also inspired someone to do the same for an issue in their community.”
He continued: “Not only is that number a symbol of the united support of human rights, but also a testament to the power of the individual.”
Unsurprisingly Frier was named one of the Royal Knights of the evening. Instead of being given the traditional crowns and tiaras, he received a feathered mask.
“It was amazingly overwhelming to win,” Frier told NBC. “They called my name, and all I could hear were my friends cheering for me. I just smiled extremely wide, and when I got to the bottom of the stairs, all of the people that had helped make this happen were either sobbing hysterically or smiling so wide I thought they would hurt themselves.”
Dex Frier’s experience isn’t just a personal win though. It’s a win for inclusivity. But we still have a long way to go.
Despite the reality that more and more teens today are identifying with non-traditional gender labels, many high schools and educational institutions have failed to adapt terminology and gender policies accordingly. However, there has been some progress made in recent years, signifying that things might be headed in a more gender-inclusive direction for children and teens.
Some of these include an Oregon high school introducing six gender-neutral bathrooms in 2013, a Kansas City school district deciding to go fully gender neutral when they renovated their elementary school bathrooms in 2018 and a Burlington, Vermont school debuting a gender-neutral locker room earlier this year.
At the university level, both Northwestern and Purdue have adopted a gender-neutral homecoming court, and the Chicago Tribune points out that many Chicago area high schools have also eliminated gender from their homecoming courts.
This latest triumph at Johnson High School clearly represents movement toward a more gender-neutral educational system. We can only hope that other schools can adapt their policies accordingly, and don’t have to wait for a situation like this to occur before taking action.
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