As prom season rolls around, schools buzz with the latest gossip about prom king and queen nominations and students run to voting booths to vote for their favorite royal couples. I mean, what high schooler wouldn’t want to wear a gold sash and have their name celebrated by the whole school? Turns out, a lot.
The inherent definition of prom court is that one man and one woman must be “coupled” together to receive this prestigious award, thus excluding all individuals who do not fit a traditional, straight couple dynamic. But what about the young girls who do not see them with a king? The young boys who see them with a male instead? When Annie Wise and Riley Loudermilk, a lesbian couple from Kings high school, received the award of prom king and queen, countless parents began antagonizing the queer couple, saying they were undeserving of an award exclusively made for men and women.
The strong wave of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that comes alongside this tradition has created a toxic culture that rejects any person outside of the cis-gender, hetereosexual circle. A queer couple, similar to Wise and Loudermilk, will either never stand a chance of being crowned royalty, or risk being deemed “undeserving” of such a honorable award because of their sexual orientation.
Although questions surrounding the inclusivity of prom court are not new, most of them have been brushed off and seen as “a stretch.” But it is critical to note that having one man and one woman crowned a “royalty” is not a one-time occurrence. Rather, students will pick up on subconscious patterns with the outcome of prom court. Many begin to subconsciously realize that a straight, hetereosexual couple is the only pair being celebrated by the school, sending an implicit message that to be royal and respectable, be straight first.
The anti-LGBTQ naratives prom court perpetatues also fuels broader oppression against the LGBTQ community. When schools tolerate queer exclusion during prom season, they will tolerate the same kind of exclusion in other aspects as well. This looks like implementing discriminatory bathroom laws that restrict transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender or even banning the teaching of LGBTQ history in school curriculums.
To gloss over legitimate concerns that LGBTQ students have is another corrupt way school systems mistreat marginalized groups. It is never worth keeping a tradition for the sole reason that it is a “tradition”, especially when it attacks the very identities of minority groups. As we approach the peak of another prom season, schools ought to choose a path that legitimizes sexual minorities just as much as it legitimizes straight identifying students. Some schools have opted into a gender-neutral prom court system, which allows for students to be selected on an individual basis, rather than on a couple basis. Other schools have changed the tradition from “king and queen” to just “royalty”, while also providing gender-neutral headwear options instead of the usual crown and tiara combination. Whatever alternative method schools go with, the first step to equality is to ditch a tradition that, at its core, justifies homophobia.
Credit picture: https://www.aclu.org/
Written by Sophia Li
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