Lesbian students enter to cheers at Minn. school

CHRIS WILLIAMS | Associated Press

CHAMPLIN, Minn. — Two lesbian high school students who fought for the right to walk together as part of a royalty court made their entrances Monday, Jan. 31 to the cheers of hundreds of classmates.

Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton wore matching black suits with pink ties and held hands as they entered the Snow Days Pep Fest at Champlin Park High School in Minneapolis’ northwest suburbs.

The reaction came as a relief to the couple and school administrators. The district has been stung by criticism of its policies toward homosexuality and the alleged bullying of a gay student who killed himself.

“It felt amazing,” said Shelton, adding that she was too nervous to notice dozens rise to give her a standing ovation as she walked in with Lindstrom. “I think we were too focused on getting to the stage.”

If there were any boos, they were drowned about by supporters. “I feel so much better,” Lindstrom said while surrounded by friends after the rally.

Sarah’s mother, Shannon Lindstrom, camera in hand, joined the other mothers of children in the royalty court after the rally.

“They had a lot of courage,” she said Shelton and her daughter. “Look how far we’ve come.”

Students voted onto the royalty court traditionally enter the assembly in boy-girl pairs. After Lindstrom and Shelton, both 18, were elected, school officials last week announced a change in procedure: court members would walk in individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher.

School officials said they merely wanted to prevent the two from being teased. But on Friday, two human rights groups sued on their behalf.

On Saturday, in federally mediated talks, school officials relented. The two sides agreed that members of the royalty court would be escorted by anyone meaningful to them, regardless of gender or age.

“This is a new chapter for the district,” said Sam Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed the lawsuit along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and local assistance from the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre and Benson.

Young women in evening gowns and young men in dark suits walked through a makeshift arch and to the stage during the Monday afternoon pep rally complete with cheerleaders, dance teams and the school band. So did two young women in suits, and the crowd cheered for each one.

“They did great,” said Principal Mike George. “I’m proud of our students.”

Several of the students in the crowd didn’t understand what all the fuss over the lesbian couple.

“Some people are against it, but they don’t care if they walk down a stupid runway,” said Maggie Hesaliman, 14.

Melissa Biellefe, 16, said, “We’re a pretty respectful school. Our rule is just let people be who they are.”

Champlin Park is part of the Anoka-Hennepin school district, Minnesota’s largest, which has been in the spotlight in the past year for its handling of issues involving gay and lesbian students.

It has been in the crossfire for its policy of “neutrality” in classroom discussions of homosexuality. It was reached in 2009 as a way to balance the demands of liberal and conservative families, but neither side has been completely happy with it.

The issues flared again last year after a gay student, Justin Aaberg, killed himself. His mother has said she heard too late from Justin’s friends that he had been harassed.

Aaberg was one of six students who committed suicide in the district since the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, and advocacy groups have linked some of the other deaths to the bullying of gay students.

However, the district said last month its own investigation did not find evidence that bullying contributed to the students’ deaths.

—  John Wright

WATCH: N. Dallas High School bars transgender girl from running for homecoming queen

A male-to-female transgender student at North Dallas High School says the school’s principal is discriminating against her by barring her from running for homecoming queen, according to a report that aired Wednesday night on Fox 4.

Andy Moreno, an 18-year-old senior, told the station that some friends nominated her for homecoming queen. However, a few days ago, a counselor warned Moreno that some school administrators were opposed to the idea. Moreno says she went to talk to the principal, who told her to run for homecoming king instead.

The Dallas Independent School District says it has no formal policy on the issue, but DISD issued a statement saying: “The district fully supports the decision of the principal at North Dallas High School. It should be noted that the Dallas Independent School District is proud to have one of the most aggressive anti-harassment policies among school districts in the state of Texas.”

Moreno says she doesn’t feel comfortable running for homecoming king because she identifies as a female, and her friends support her.

“I do feel like I’m being harassed and I feel like I’m being discriminated against,” Moreno told Fox 4. “I feel like the principal is embarrassed to have a transgender queen.”

Stay tuned to Instant Tea and Dallas Voice for more on the story.

—  John Wright

A glimpse of the change to come: School officials yank trans teen’s homecoming king crown

The San Francisco Chronicle posted a story online today about Oakleigh Reed, a transgender 17-year-old at Mona Shores High School in Muskegon, Mich., who was voted homecoming king by his classmates after he launched a Facebook campaign for the crown. But then school officials yanked Oak’s crown, declaring that students can only choose a boy for homecoming kind, and Oak — as he is known to his friends — is not a boy.

Oak has been coming to terms with his gender identity for some time, and his classmates and teachers and family have apparently been coming to terms along with him. His teachers refer to Oak with male pronouns in class. The school allows him to wear a tuxedo when he marches with the band. And he has been given permission to wear the male cap and gown at graduation.

But because he is “still enrolled as a female” at the high school, Oak can’t be homecoming king, school officials declared.

Another homecoming king has already been crowned. But Oak’s classmates, angry that their votes were ignored, have taken to Facebook to protest with a page called “Oak is Our King.” And they are encouraging everyone to wear T-shirts bearing that slogan to school on Friday, Oct. 1. The Chronicle says that the ACLU is considering taking on the case.

Now, I figure there are two ways to look at this, and I guess when it comes right down to it, you can see it both ways at once. First of all — and this was my first reaction — is to be angry at school administrators who completely discounted the choice of the majority of the students who wanted to honor their friend Oak by naming him homecoming king. We could see it as just another example of the way LGBT people, especially LGBT youth, are mistreated by a bigoted society.

That’s all true, of course. But look again and you can see a very bright silver lining to this cloud: The fact that the students voted a transgender teen as homecoming king. If that’s not progress, what is?

There will come a day when the “old guard” — the ones that take away homecoming king crowns and refuse to letLGBT students take their same-gender dates to the prom and insist they dress according to outdated gender stereotypes — will be gone and this younger, more open-minded and accepting generation will be in charge. And maybe when that happens, the young people of that day will stand aghast at the idea that same-sex couples weren’t allowed to get married, that gays and lesbians couldn’t serve openly in the military, that transgenders were ridiculed just for trying to be themselves.

I’m not saying we should stop fighting for those things now and wait for the inevitable change. I  know I don’t have that much patience, and I am sure most of you don’t either.  But I do think we can take heart in knowing that change is coming. Whether the bigots like it or not.

—  admin