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A Student’s Fight For Equality on the Homecoming Ballot

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Aaron just wants his voice heard.

Aaron just wants his voice heard.

Bryndle Burks

Bryndle Burks

Aaron just wants his voice heard.

By DJ McInturff and Bryndle Burks

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For generations young girls have looked up to the young ladies on the homecoming court, in their elegant gowns, perfect makeup, and flowing hair, riding down the street in a fancy car as the crowds wave and cheer.  It’s expected for impressionable little girls to aspire to be like these girls. But, you might not expect an equally as impressionable young boy to find a role model in these beautiful young women.

However, this was exactly the case with sophomore, Aaron Elliot. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, you look up to those girls,” says Elliot, whose sister and mother were both on the court when they were in high school.  Elliot, who wants to take part in this Herrin High School tradition, says he doesn’t feel as if he belongs with the escorts. “I needed to find a place where I fit in, and I do fit in with the court.”  

After making a tweet which generated an unanticipated amount of buzz, especially in the form of support, Elliot asked himself, “What’s stopping me?  What is stopping me?  So I was like, go for it.”

Elliot, who came out as gay at the age of thirteen, not only wants the opportunity to be on the court for himself, but also for those who might follow him, or might already be quietly dreaming of following in the footsteps of his stilettos.  “Looking up to the girls,” says Elliot, “that’s something I did. But if there was a little boy that was like me, how I was, I just, I think back to what I would’ve done if I would’ve seen a boy up there. I think that I would have blossomed, in a sense, to be more of myself at an earlier age.”

Now motivated, Elliot wrote a formal letter to the administration, explaining just why he would like his name to be placed on this year’s homecoming court ballot:

To  whom this may concern,

As you have probably heard, I, Aaron Elliott, would like to have my name put on this year’s homecoming ballot.   As a child I looked up to my sisters, both of whom were on homecoming court during their high school careers. Since I was young I’ve known that this is something I wanted to be a part of.  Children look up to these young women and some aspire to be like them, but what about children who don’t fit in with many of these people. I want to represent them and give them someone to look up to.  Traditionally only the young women have been able to represent our school as members of the court, while the young men are only escorts if they are varsity members of an athletic team. I don’t feel that I fit in with the young men who are escorts.  Sports are not something I’m interested in, and I want to be able to do more than just escort the young women; I want to be a part of the court. I want to be somewhere where I feel I fit in. On page nine of our schools agenda under the section “Equal Opportunity and Gender Equity”, It states “Equal educational and extracurricular opportunities are available to all students without regard to race, color, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, age, religious beliefs, physical or mental disability, status as homeless, or actual or potential marital or parental status, including pregnancy”.  Nowhere in the handbook does it specifically state that young men can not participate in homecoming court; it is just tradition, and tradition can change. I am not doing this for attention or to create controversy, I just want a chance to do something that truly makes me feel like I belong. I understand the backlash that could fall upon me, but I have dealt with that my entire life. It will continue no matter what I do; however, I will never let that stop me from being who I truly am. I will respect any decision made, but I would greatly appreciate it if I was put on the ballot.

In the great words of ABBA, “Take a chance on me”

Elliot was then a bit disheartened by the answer he received from Principal Johnson, who was initially under the impression that he wanted it to be opened up so that more boys have the opportunity to be a part of escorting. Once Elliot made it clear that he wished for his name to be placed on the ballot so that he could possibly be elected to the queen’s court, Mr. Johnson said that he lacked the authority needed to deliver a final decision on the matter.

“It’s too late for this year,” Johnson later stated in an interview, as this was brought to their attention one week before the vote.  The principal said that all homecoming activities, including that of the ballots, must be approved by the school board, which will not meet again until after the ballots have been cast.  

Principal Johnson declined to comment on several aspects of the proposition or express any opinion on the matter, waiting instead to hear the school board’s decision.  Although, Johnson did assure that the issue would be considered and that appropriate action would be taken. “Now that the question’s out there,” Johnson said, “we’re going to address it.”  

Understanding and respecting that the administration of the high school were not in a place to comply with his request, Elliot contacted the Assistant Superintendent/Curriculum Director, as the Student Handbook instructs to if any student has a “gender equality of equal opportunity concern.”  But Aaron says that he was immediately directed to the Superintendent, Dr. Ryker, who, regardless of what the Student Handbook may state, is the administrator who actually handles such issues and concerns as they arise. So, Elliot called Dr. Ryker’s office phone, asking to schedule a meeting in which he might be able to plead his case, but was only able to leave a voicemail; and, at the time this article was published, Elliot’s call has not been returned.  

“Basically,” says Elliot, “the admin — I have talked to them many times and every time they have given me an answer that just drives me farther and farther away from my goal.  For some reason, I just feel like they’re putting it off.”

Although the decision of the school board will effectively have the final say on whether or not Elliot’s name ever appears on the ballot, in the end it would ultimately be up to the students, specifically the class of 2021, whether or not Elliot ever gets his moment on the queen’s court.

Since he made the initial tweet, Elliot has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support he has received from his peers.  “I feel extremely privileged and blessed to go to Herrin, truly,” states Elliot. “To even have it considered is amazing and astonishing.”

Kelsey King, Sophomore Class President, has said that she supports this cause “because he should have equal opportunity as the girls, and even if we don’t call it queen we could just call it royalty.”  Another student expressed their opinion, which is “ if someone wants to be on the ballot they should be allowed to, just like being able to get taken off of it. If he wants to feel ‘pretty’ he should be.”

One student, who opposes the idea of Elliot’s name being allowed on the ballot, feels that participating in the homecoming court is a tradition that has been reserved for young ladies for generations, and should remain that way.  “I think that the community– some would be indifferent, but I think the majority, of at least the students at the school, would be angry because it has been only women on the court for such a long time that a man would disrupt the flow of things.”  This same student expressed the view that parents might disapprove of the motion as well. “I think most of the parents are frustrated because this individual is causing a lot of problems for administration because they have to create new rules for the court.”

Students have also commented that they would expect Elliot to receive some backlash if he was to be voted onto court.  “I’m sure that he would face at least a little bit,” expresses Kelsey King, a staunch supporter of Aaron’s request, “and it would all be behind his back, I think.  But he does have a large support system that would defend him.”

Elliot himself is aware of the possibility of backlash if his goal is ever achieved, but he is unphased by the prospect.  “Everytime I step out of the house I expect some sort of backlash,” says Elliot. “I’m expecting it from people, I hope not from the admin.”

The teenage Elliot realizes the broader context which his current cause is rooted in, and he also realizes the dialogue which he’s started.  “I’ve done something. Even if I don’t make it on court, I’ve done something. I’ve started something that needed to be done.” But making it onto the homecoming court is still his ultimate goal.  “If I got on court it would be a win. I would take it as a personal win and as a win for the LGBTQIA community, truly, because this isn’t something that happens. This is tradition, tradition that has gone on for years.  And since there are so many things going on in the media right now that are breaking tradition, I think that Herrin, Illinois is ready for it. I think that they truly are. And if they can’t handle it, that’s okay. That’s alright.  I’m gonna give you your room. But I’m here to stomp it out once it’s ready!”

Meanwhile, Elliot’s goal will have to remain just that, a goal.  But don’t let yourself be fooled, Elliot has no intentions of acting complacently.  He already plans to raise his proposition at the next scheduled school board meeting.  Until then, this year’s homecoming court activities will proceed as they always have, and Elliot will wait for a decision to be handed down, and continue to admire the girls of the court from the sidelines, and dream of being the first boy.

This story was originally published on Tiger Tattler on September 3, 2018.

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