BY MOLLY SLOAN
As homecoming approaches, the excitement at Truman is palpable–and for good reason. It’s an excuse to put stress and obligation on the backburner and focus on more interesting things, like asking a date to the dance, planning an outfit, or voting for Homecoming King and Queen. As this is the first Homecoming in two years, it’s no wonder students are so excited. Unfortunately, though, these good feelings haven’t reached everyone.
Take senior Elliott Owens, for example. Though he had never given much thought to homecoming court in the past, he was more than excited when he was nominated by Truman’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) earlier this year. “Basically, we were told that GSA is allowed to nominate two seniors to run for Homecoming court,” he said. “Seeing as there were very few seniors in the club when we did that, I was pretty much picked for nomination by default as I was one of the only ones who felt up to running.”
But for Owens, the nomination wasn’t the most exciting part. Instead, it was the possibility that he might get to run for Homecoming King. Owens is transgender, and often feels that his identity is ignored. “Essentially, I identify as a boy while I was born as a female,” he said. “Being considered a girl just always felt wrong, whereas being considered a boy feels correct.” The nomination, then, came with the potential for something a lot more meaningful than a crown. “I was told by the sponsors that since I identified as a guy, I could probably run for Homecoming King, but that they would have to check that it was okay first,” said Owens. He was excited, “but more about being able to run as a guy rather than just being able to run in general.”
For the first time, there was a possibility that Owens’ identity could be recognized in a more significant way. “I had gotten my hopes up,” he said. But the excitement didn’t last for long. Owens was told by a counselor that “I had to run as my birth gender if I wanted to run at all, and that it was a policy she couldn’t change due to it being from Central Office.” This news, especially coming without any explanation, was jarring. “I guess the best way to describe how I felt about it was kind of a crushing feeling,” he said. “The thought of running for king and actually being seen as a boy had made me really happy, so being told that I couldn’t do that felt really invalidating, like I wouldn’t truly be seen as a boy here.” Owens’ choice now was to either run for Homecoming Queen or drop out of the race altogether. “I decided to drop out,” he said.
While it might not seem important to many, Owens feels that it’s an issue of respect. “I want them to be able to understand why it’s such an important thing for me to be recognized as the gender I identify with,” he said, adding, “even if it’s something as unimportant as homecoming court.”
In fact, the struggles of transgender students at Truman go far beyond this one instance. Though Owens appreciates Truman students and staff for their support, he feels that the district has been less than sensitive. “I don’t feel very supported by the district,” he said. “I feel like the people at Central Office have made several decisions that make me feel unsafe here. It’s not just the whole homecoming thing; there’s a lot of different stuff where it feels like they are purposefully disrespecting trans people.” We reached out to the district multiple times for comment on the issue and have received no response, despite waiting several days to run the story. THS Media has corroborated Owens’ version of events through multiple sources.
The easiest way to ensure the comfort and safety of trans students, Owens argues, is with small policy changes (like allowing students to choose their position on homecoming court), which make a much bigger difference to students than the district might realize. “Getting rid of that policy would be a small step that could make a lot of kids feel significantly more respected or safe at school,” he said. “It may not be something that’s extremely important, but I can say from experience that even something that small helps trans students feel like they belong.”
And he’s not the only Truman student who feels this way–many others agree that the district could be doing something differently. An anonymous student suggested that “they could make it easier to change your name at school without having to ask your parents,” thus allowing students to embrace their identity while staying safe at home.
These little changes definitely add up, and many trans students think there’s a lot left to be done. Nothing good can come from burying this controversy, especially when all students want is to feel seen. What we need is an open, honest conversation. Without it, the problem is never going to be solved.