Finally, after weeks (months?) of depressing news, current events have taken a lovely turn. On Tuesday, the University of Minnesota Homecoming Court announced a small change with a huge impact: Rather than crowning a "King and Queen," students will vote for gender-neutral "Royals" this year. It might not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but when it comes to dismantling heteronormativity, moves like this really, really matter.
On its website, University of Minnesota Student Unions and Activities writes that the change stems from a "spirit of inclusion." "This... allows the University to select the best student representatives for the U of M based on campus and community involvement — regardless of gender," the announcement reads. According to Twin Cities.com, the university chooses a Homecoming Court of 10 students each spring. Typically, the group is made up of five women and five men, but following the switch, this ratio will no longer apply — the court will simply be made up of 10 students of varying genders.
Marissa Suiter, Interim Program Director for Events and Activities, explains the process of choosing the Homecoming Court to Bustle over email. "Any interested students can apply to become Royalty and will participate in a group interview," she writes. 10 students will be selected to be on the court by late April, after which they will take part in a series of competitions, interviews, and campus events. Although students do vote for the two Homecoming Royals, this only comprises 25 percent of a student's overall score. "The top two scoring candidates that best demonstrate their leadership and Gopher spirit will be crowned Homecoming Royals and will receive a $500 scholarship," Suiter concludes.
Suiter told CBS Minnesota that the university had noticed other schools implementing more gender-neutral language for their Homecoming Courts, which inspired the University of Minnesota student coordinators to adopt a similar policy. Junior and Homecoming planning board member Devin Graf explained to CBS that "any combination [of genders] can work" under the title change. "It’s a really great opportunity and it has nothing to do with gender," she added.
Schools have been at the center of much of the debate over transgender rights, with mixed results. In late February, for example, Donald Trump's administration drew heavy criticism from LGBTQ rights groups for rolling back Obama-era guidelines allowing transgender students to use their preferred bathrooms in public schools — and even when these protections are implemented, lawsuits sometimes follow.
On the bright side, it's not all bad news; the University of Minnesota is one of a growing number of schools adopting gender-neutral homecoming courts, and polls have shown that young people are among the most accepting of transgender bathroom access. Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of Americans favor passing laws protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination.
With the current state of LGBTQ rights — particularly when it comes to the transgender community — changes like the University of Minnesota's Royal Court are welcome. Here's hoping other schools follow suit.