Another homecoming season is fast approaching, and with it come the uplifting stories of LGBT hopefuls reaching one of the pinnacles of their school year: being elected homecoming royalty.
While the number of queer and trans homecoming kings, queens, princesses, and princes rises each year, perhaps the most striking element of this trend is its continued presence in more conservative U.S. cities.
It's partly why LGBT rights supporters in California's Modesto County, a generally conservative area in the state's central valley, are cheering the election of two students to Enochs High School's homecoming court last week.
Nathan Hailey, 18, and Isaac Salazar, 15, told The Modesto Bee Friday that they're both overjoyed to have recently become Enochs High royalty. But Hailey, a gay senior who was elected homecoming king in October, and Salazar, a trans sophomore who was elected princess for the second consecutive year last month, both say their wins are bigger than them, showing how far their school has come in terms of LGBT acceptance.
"I think the general opinion is evolving as a whole not just here, but everywhere," Hailey told the Bee. "I think it's less socially acceptable to be homophobic now. If you are, you'll definitely get crap from a lot of people around you."
"If they can vote for me as princess, anyone can do it. Everyone has a chance," Salazar added. "It meant a lot to me being transgender [to be homecoming princess]. It's such a personal thing. Some days I worry, 'Do I look feminine enough today?' Being a princess, it's like, maybe people accept me for who I am."
Staff at Enochs agreed that the school climate continues to get better each year for LGBT students, though there is always room for progress. School officials and members of the the school's gay-straight alliance said LGBT students have been named to homecoming court for the past several years.
But areas for improvement appear to be bathroom and locker room situations, which have increasingly become sticking points in particular for trans students nationwide, as evidenced by recent debates in both Minnesota and Kentucky.
Salazar, who has been out since middle school, tells the Bee that she faced some questioning from peers in the girls' bathroom, and subsequently changed for gym in the nurse's office throughout the past school year, as did a gay male student who was harassed in the locker room. GSA adviser Debbie Adair noted that some students questioned Salazar's gender identity after the young woman was elected to the homecoming court the first time.
Still, Salazar is happy with her school experience and hopeful about the future. Ed Plata, codirector of Modesto LGBT youth support group The Place, echoed her optimism about today's youth — a group who, in a recent millennial poll conducted by Fusion, showed that half no longer consider gender strictly binary.
"The change is in the kids, it's not the adults by any means. The adults have the same attitudes and same issues. It's the kids who don't have the same attidues and issues the adults do anymore," Plata concluded to the Bee. "Having these students [on homecoming court] is a good thing. It's a sign of the times and the fact that things are changing."