Mention the South Bronx to marriage equality advocates in New York, and many think of State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr., the fiery Pentecostal minister and legislator from the area who vehemently opposes same-sex marriage. Ask young lesbians Victoria ("Vikky") Cruz and Deoine Scott about that kind of resistance, however, and it barely seems to square with their personal experience as an out couple in an area high school.
Vikky 17, and Deoine, 18, were overwhelmingly voted "best couple" by their peers in the graduating class at Mott Haven Village Preparatory High School, a first for the small public high school located in the senate district represented by Diaz, Sr. Vikky, who participates in the Radio Rookies program for aspiring young journalists sponsored by local public radio station WNYC-FM, reported on the historic experience in this piece that first aired on Thursday.
Advocate.com caught up with Vikky and Deoine, who graduated on Friday, at WNYC-FM to talk about the achievement, which is immortalized with a photo in their high school yearbook.
"Nobody said anything negative about it," said Deoine. "Everybody said, 'Oh, that's good you won. You both look so cute!'"
Vikky said she was approached by the yearbook's editor, a friend who admired how she and Deoine have been together for two and a half years during what is often a tumultuous period in young dating lives. Maribel, who also speaks in the radio segment, encouraged Vikky to run for the honor. Deoine needed less convincing.
When it came for students to vote, however, one small error existed on the ballots.
"They gave out papers that said 'boy' and 'girl,'" said Vikky, with the exactitude of a budding newsperson.
Maribel and Deoine rushed around the classrooms and assured their peers they could edit the voting categories and vote for two girls if they wished.
"They all scratched out 'boy' and put 'girl'," said Deoine. "That's how we won."
Deoine, who plans a career in social work helping teenagers, hopes their honor lays the groundwork for subsequent graduating classes at the South Bronx school.
"I think now, for other gay people who might go to my school, they will have a chance at getting in the yearbook, since we were the first," she said.
The pair, who met in a 10th grade class and essentially went through the coming out process together, say their unique relationship has educated their classmates about gay and lesbian issues. No gay student organization exists at the school, although they describe the climate and teachers as generally supportive.
"Before when we started going out, everybody would look at us, like, 'What's wrong with them?'" says Vikky. "But then from 11th grade, everybody started getting comfortable."
Their respective home lives in the Bronx offer a more mixed picture.
Deoine explains that having a gay brother among her five siblings means her family is fairly "understanding" and "open-minded."
Vikky, on the other hand, lives with her two brothers and grandmother, a devout Catholic whose negative opinions toward gay and lesbian people make Vikky feel apprehensive about introducing Deoine as her girlfriend. She wondered what her grandmother thought when Deoine arrived holding flowers on prom night.
"My brothers told me that they know already, they were really happy for me. But I'm scared to face it, I guess," she said.
While Vikky and Deoine plan to attend different local colleges in the fall, they intend to stay close to each other, especially since they became engaged in December, as Deoine reveals during the interview by pointing to a ring on her finger. She says she would like to get married in New York, although that is not a legal option yet.
"We want the same things as somebody who's straight," she says. "So why can't we get it?"
Neither young woman considers herself an activist, but Deoine hints that she follows gay rights developments somewhat closely. She mentions Cynthia Nixon and Ellen DeGeneres as role models, and refers to Sergio Garcia, the 18-year-old Los Angeles student voted prom queen by his class in May.
Asked what they want to show through their title as "best couple" in their South Bronx high school, Deoine, who describes herself as the more talkative of the two, summarizes their agenda.
"I hope people can see that we're just people," she says. "Everybody should have an equal place somewhere, even if it's in a yearbook or getting married. We all should get the same rights as everybody else. It doesn't matter who we like, or what we want to do in life."