No more homecoming queen? Schools advised to consider nonconforming gender identities

  • Suburban schools might have to consider changing homecoming and prom traditions to be more inclusive of students with nonconforming gender identities, a new state report recommends.

    Suburban schools might have to consider changing homecoming and prom traditions to be more inclusive of students with nonconforming gender identities, a new state report recommends. Daily Herald File Photo, 2012

  • A.J. Pilafas, a special education student at Hoffman Estates High School, celebrated his victory of being selected as homecoming king in 2014. Next to him is the queen, Hannah Greenwalt. A new state report recommends schools do away with traditional labels of kings and queens to be more inclusive of nonconforming gender identities.

      A.J. Pilafas, a special education student at Hoffman Estates High School, celebrated his victory of being selected as homecoming king in 2014. Next to him is the queen, Hannah Greenwalt. A new state report recommends schools do away with traditional labels of kings and queens to be more inclusive of nonconforming gender identities. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2014

 
 
Posted3/2/2020 5:30 AM

Should time-honored school traditions dubbing students as kings and queens for homecomings and proms be changed in favor of more gender spectrum-inclusive titles?

That's among the recommendations of a new state report on inclusivity for students with nonconforming gender identities, which has sparked a conversation among suburban school leaders.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The report suggests Illinois' public schools drop reliance on traditional male-female gender descriptions and train teachers to use more inclusive language when addressing groups of students.

"The training should include how to ensure things such as inspirational speeches, motivational phrases, locker-room talk, pep rallies, and team chants are inclusive and gender-neutral. Examples of phrases that should be eliminated include 'man up' or 'don't be a sissy,'" the report recommends.

The Illinois State Board of Education this month will issue guidance to schools for creating policies based on the task force's recommendations, spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said.

"It's important to recognize that our society as a whole, not just schools, are in a period of transition," said Mark Kovack, associate superintendent for student services for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.

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District 211 is well-versed on gender identity debates after recently resolving a nearly 4½-year legal battle on the issue of transgender students' access to locker rooms. Last November, the school board voted to no longer require transgender students to use privacy stalls made available for all students in locker rooms.

"As a school district, we have been responding to students' unique needs forever, long before gender became a focal point," Kovack said.

District 211 schools have homecoming and prom kings and queens, which has been a controversial topic for years before the task force released its report, he said.

"Culture is something that develops over time and it doesn't transform overnight," Kovack said. "Usually, it takes a little bit of time to see a movement. We are engaged in that and trying to determine the best ways to go about bringing about positive change."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Some schools nationwide have opted to recognize a group of students as "homecoming royalty court" instead of singling out individuals.

"Such conversations have been unfolding at public schools over the past several years with increased visibility of trans identities, said Nat Duran, youth engagement manager for Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, which provides training to schools and supports youth in partnership with the GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliances) Network.

Officials at Elgin Area School District U-46 soon will review the task force's recommendations and district policies.

The state's second-largest school district weathered controversy a few years ago when administrators decided to allow a transgender middle school student access to the locker room and restroom corresponding with that student's gender identity.

"We, as a district, kind of take things case by case," said school board member Veronica Noland, who served on the state task force.

Beyond titles, the task force report addresses school districts' policies toward providing equal educational opportunities for students of varying gender identities and expression and preventing discrimination, harassment and bullying, as prohibited by state and federal laws.

Some educators and schools may be less in step philosophically with the state recommendations, but Duran believes it's only a matter of time before practices change.

"Learning new things is just as much about unlearning old things," Duran said, "and that can be a very vulnerable process."

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