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Fairfax High elects gay student prom queen, prompting discussion about gender roles

May 27, 2009 | 12:22 pm

Fairfax guy Sergio Garcia stood in the gymnasium and told the senior class at Fairfax High School not to worry: If he was elected, he wouldn’t wear a dress.

 “I will be wearing a suit,” Garcia said, “but don’t be fooled, deep down inside, I am a queen!” Garcia, 18, spent most of his years at Fairfax openly gay and wanting to be part of the prom court — but not as king.

He felt prom queen better suited his personality, so he decided to seek that crown, running against a handful of female classmates. He said it started as a bit of a stunt and challenge — he wasn’t sure the school would allow it — but that his campaign for queen ended up being serious and sparking dialogue about gender roles on campus.

A few days before the election each contender gave a short speech about why he or she deserved the crown.

“At one time, prom may have been a big popularity contest where the best looking guy or girl were crowned king and queen,” Garcia told the crowd of seniors. "Things have changed and it’s no longer just about who has the most friends or who wears the coolest clothes. Sure I’m not your typical prom queen candidate. There’s more to me than meets the eye.”

The audience erupted in applause after Garcia’s speech, and a group of his female friends spent the rest of the week wearing pink crowns and campaigning for him. On Saturday night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, wearing a charcoal-gray tuxedo and a black bow tie, he learned his class had elected him queen.

“I felt invincible,” Garcia said.

He’s among the first males in Southern California to take the coveted title generally owned by female beauties, and his election may be a signal of a new generation's intent to stretch traditional gender roles.

 “It just shows how open-minded our class is,” said Vanessa Lo, 18, the school’s senior class president. Lo said that she, like many students, had initially opposed the idea of Garcia running for prom queen.

But she said he “spoke with complete confidence” and carried himself in a way that made students believe he was serious, not a class clown or joker just trying to get attention.

“His speech was great,” remembered Unique Payne, 17, a senior who said she voted for Garcia. “I did it because I support the gay community,” she said.

While many students were supportive of Garcia’s run, others were upset and didn’t understand why Garcia chose to run for prom queen.

“I’m not really happy about that. He should’ve run for prom king,” said 17-year-old senior Juan Espinoza.

Espinoza said he has nothing against Garcia but believes many students voted as a joke so they could see the prom king dancing with another guy on prom night.

One member of the prom court also said she didn’t think it was right for a male to take the crown.

Garcia, who lives in Mid-City and is an aspiring choreographer and hairdresser, said he didn’t plan to run for prom queen until notices were posted around school. The qualifications didn’t include gender, and he said running for king didn’t quite feel right.

 “I didn’t really know if the school approved. I thought ‘Why can’t I do it?’ ” Garcia said. “I see myself as a boy with a different personality. ... I don’t wish to be a girl, I just wish to be myself.”

Some teachers and students were encouraging, while others told him not to “stir things up like that,” he said.

But his close friends continued to support him, and after his speech the campus community seemed to be coming around to the idea. Fairfax, located at the intersection of Melrose and Fairfax avenues, has often been at the forefront of the gay rights struggle.

It has a Gay-Straight Alliance student group and Project 10, an onsite support program for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth, was launched at Fairfax in 1984 after a social worker wanted to help an openly gay man who was harassed by other students.

The program has since been expanded to encompass all of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Project 10’s founder, Virginia Uribe, said she was encouraged by news of Garcia’s election. She said that, within the last two years, there have been similar elections at proms and homecoming courts in high schools and colleges around the nation. “I think that indicates where our society is right now.

"The young people, they are not involved in this whole argument about gay rights," Uribe said. "They think this whole fight is silly. They just accept people for who they are.

“Gender bending is just kind of in,” she said.

--Ari B. Bloomekatz

Photo: Sergio Garcia is crowed Fairfaix High prom queen. Credit: Courtesy of Sergio Garcia

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