When we were kids, everyone swore we were going to ruin the world with our carefree ways and frivolous concerns. Now young people are getting the exact same treatment from us, even though the things they care about are vitally important.
Students at West High School in Madison, Wisconsin, recently rallied to have a gender-neutral homecoming court at this year’s dance. The movement was started by the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and more than 1,000 students signed a petition to do away with the traditional titles of King and Queen. The reason? The traditional titles are exclusionary and require people to identify as a certain gender in order to participate.
Now, instead of dividing students into groups of ten boys and ten girls, teens will simply vote on 20 nominees who best represent their school’s values. From that group, two winners will go on to wear the crowns as “Regent Royalty” — a name the students came up with themselves. Their principal, Beth Thompson, said the change was a result of serious reflection on “the purpose of [gender] identifying people for court” and several conversations she had with student leaders.”My hope is that students who are not feeling included and valued now really feel like they have a place at the table,” she told Today Parents.
The student body’s reaction to the change has been overwhelmingly positive, but that hasn’t necessarily stopped grown-ups from freaking out and jumping to criticize these kids for their efforts. Popsugar and other sites that covered the awesome gender-neutral change received a spattering of hate from adults angry that the “PC police” were out there promoting acceptance and inclusivity at high school dances. Oh, the horror.
Here’s the thing: suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, 41 percent of transgender or gender non-conforming individuals try to kill themselves at some point in their lives. That’s not because they’re “too sensitive,” but rather because they face constant discrimination from a world that will not move even an inch to validate their lives and experiences.
Kids today probably are more “sensitive” and more “politically correct,” and you know what? That’s a good thing. They’re doing what way too many adults refuse to do, which is consider the needs, feelings, experiences, and challenges of people who aren’t just like them. If a tradition is exclusionary or based on outdated ideas about sex, race, and gender, they try to change it. They should be applauded for that.
Things aren’t exempt from being examined or altered just because they’re a part of “tradition.” In fact, modernizing traditions and allowing them to grow as our understanding evolves is how we keep them relevant. There’s no reason to exclude someone from the homecoming court based on their gender, or to force them to conform to a title that doesn’t fit with how they identify in their daily lives. We can afford to make room for everyone.
Acceptance and compassion aren’t bad things, and we could all use a little more of them in our daily lives. Kudos to these young people for understanding that and for doing what little they can to make life happier for their peers.