A transgender student was told he couldn't run for prom king. He fought back and won something better.

A Georgia high school has adapted gender-neutral prom court terminology, after receiving public backlash for telling a student he could only run for prom queen because he was born a woman.

Dex Frier, who has identified as transgender since his sophomore year at Johnson High School in Gainesville, Georgia, was seriously ecstatic when he received one of six coveted nominations for senior prom king, an honor he was beyond excited about. "I was jumping up and down. Me and my best friend were losing our minds, we were so excited," Frier told CBS affiliate WGCL.

However, school officials told him that because he was assigned female at birth, he could only run for prom queen. He — along with his friends, the student body and others around the world — were not okay with that decision.


Frier and his friends started an online ballot challenging the school’s decision.

“Allow transgender boy to run for Prom King,” they dubbed the Change.org ballot, which quickly amassed over 32,000 signatures in a week from individuals around the world supporting their plea for inclusivity.

“Just because I’m not legally male I was going to get excluded from something that every guy has the opportunity to be in high school. It was really upsetting,” Frier, who is often referred to by his teachers with male pronouns, told BuzzFeed on March 21. “As a student I felt I had the right to be put on the ballot.”

He continued: “I don’t know of many trans people who go to this school [but] I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. It hurts being told you don’t deserve the same rights as someone else because you’re not the same as them.”

The administration was hesitant to make the change, but eventually they came to their senses.

On March 23, the school struck a compromise with the student body. They agreed to change the terminology from Prom “King” and “Queen” to simply having two “Royal Knight” seniors, who could be voted in regardless of their gender identity.

“This plan was one of compromise on both sides, and we would like to thank administration, both at the school and county level, for listening and welcoming our concerns ― and most importantly, implementing a plan to address them,” Frier’s friend, Sam Corbett, wrote about the victory on Change.org. “We hope this petition has not only pushed society further towards human rights equality, but also inspired someone to do the same for an issue in their community.”

He continued: “Not only is that number a symbol of the united support of human rights, but also a testament to the power of the individual.”

Unsurprisingly Frier was named one of the Royal Knights of the evening. Instead of being given the traditional crowns and tiaras, he received a feathered mask.

Photo via Pixabay

“It was amazingly overwhelming to win,” Frier told NBC. “They called my name, and all I could hear were my friends cheering for me. I just smiled extremely wide, and when I got to the bottom of the stairs, all of the people that had helped make this happen were either sobbing hysterically or smiling so wide I thought they would hurt themselves.”

Dex Frier’s experience isn’t just a personal win though. It’s a win for inclusivity. But we still have a long way to go.

Despite the reality that more and more teens today are identifying with non-traditional gender labels, many high schools and educational institutions have failed to adapt terminology and gender policies accordingly. However, there has been some progress made in recent years, signifying that things might be headed in a more gender-inclusive direction for children and teens.

Some of these include an Oregon high school introducing six gender-neutral bathrooms in 2013, a Kansas City school district deciding to go fully gender neutral when they renovated their elementary school bathrooms in 2018 and a Burlington, Vermont school debuting a gender-neutral locker room earlier this year.

At the university level, both Northwestern and Purdue have adopted a gender-neutral homecoming court, and the Chicago Tribune points out that many Chicago area high schools have also eliminated gender from their homecoming courts.

This latest triumph at Johnson High School clearly represents movement toward a more gender-neutral educational system. We can only hope that other schools can adapt their policies accordingly, and don’t have to wait for a situation like this to occur before taking action.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

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The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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