THE MAN IN THE WHITE DRESS and the high, white boots caught my attention as I drove past Hudson High School last week. I wear trifocals, so I thought maybe I’d missed something. Then nearby I saw a reporter with a microphone in front of a van from a New York City network TV station. It wasn’t my glasses.
For a moment in the 24-hour news cycle this year’s senior class at Hudson High gave the nation a break from the slow-motion horror show in the Gulf of Mexico and the violence in Afghanistan. The students elected two openly gay teenage boys king and queen of the prom. The Register Star, the daily newspaper in Hudson, says it broke the story, which then rippled through the media universe. Charlie Ferrusi and Timmy Howard handled all the attention well from what I saw. They gave thoughtful answers to repetitive questions about the silly stuff, like which one was the queen–they decided it didn’t matter–and they looked like they were having fun.
It may have helped that their peers, the students attending the prom, really meant to elect them the crowned heads of the dance and that the administration endorsed the decision. High School Principal Steven Spicer portrayed the selection as a conscious expression of tolerance. Certainly that is true of the adults involved. And the district deserves both praise for its wisdom and gratitude for exercising restraint. Despite the media frenzy, the situation apparently did not disrupt the end of the school year, though it easily could have.
What I saw and heard on the news makes me think that it was the students’ election of Charlie and Timmy that drove the story. More than any adult observation, the students’ vote eloquently states that most kids don’t care about someone’s sexual orientation, at least not the way their parents and grandparents did. Sure, it gets discussed, but it’s nothing to hide.
It seemed like the students were saying: Get over it grownups; you’ve taught us that loyalty and equality of opportunity, truthfulness and friendship are important values. So here it is–those values in practice. No big deal.
Also keep in mind that kids know hypocrisy when they see it. They get it that their elders are saddling them with a huge set of challenges, and the burden of judging people by their sexual orientation just isn’t one they’re willing to accept.
When I heard about Charlie and Timmy’s election at the prom, I had to make a news decision. We hadn’t covered any of the other proms at high schools around the county, so why should we make a big deal about this one. We were working on a story about the Hudson Pride celebration this Saturday and Sunday, June 19 and 20. So we noted their coronation in the part of the story that mentions the 40 high school kids who plan to march under the banner “Future Pride” this weekend in support of equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. We’ll have to wait to break our own international news story.
I’m heartened by the support Hudson Pride has received from Mayor Richard Scalera and the business community. I hope people will turn out in support of their neighbors and friends who still lack some of the basic rights available to other citizens.
I also know that acceptance, whether of the prom vote, the Hudson Pride celebration or the larger issue of gay rights, is far from universal. Not everyone has greeted the students’ choice of prom king and queen and the district’s endorsement of it as welcome or inevitable news. People cling to long-held prejudices and misconceptions. But they are now the minority, and their fears do not resonate with the next generation.
The man in the white dress and boots goes by the name Trixie Star. He’s one of the organizers of the Hudson Pride events. A photo of him standing next to Principal Spicer at the high school appeared on the front page of the Register-Star last week. The guy ahead of me at a local bagel store that morning was a lineman, part of a crew on its way to difficult, sometimes dangerous work. He glanced at the picture in the paper, tilted his head and exhaled. “Only in America,” he said to no one in particular.
Technically, it could happen somewhere else. But I’m proud it’s happening here.