Homecoming Court works to dismantle gender binary, becomes trans-inclusive

For students, alumni and other members of the Tulane family, Homecoming Week marks a beautiful celebration of their pride in the good ol’ olive and green, and a chance to return to campus to take part in the Tulane-themed festivities. For many, no HoCo week would be complete without the crowning of the Homecoming King and Queen.

But like many titles that operate on the gender binary, the Homecoming Election process has been critiqued for possibly excluding students who identify outside of the gender binary due to the gendered manner in which previous Kings and Queens were selected.

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Despite the “king” and “queen” titles technically being open to all students, regardless of gender identities and expression, some student leaders felt this was not enough. For Lauren Gaines, junior and president of Tidal Wave, and Ryan Boden, junior and Court Chair of Tidal Wave, this binary labeling process still acted as a barrier to entry for students identifying outside of the binary.

“The application last year said that either position is open to all genders, regardless of a gender expression,” Boden said. “But still it was very binary and, even though the writing was there, it didn’t actually make sense to anyone … so we just kind of wanted to make it more open this year and more inclusive.”

This desire to make the Homecoming Court selection process more inclusive prompted a series of discussions within Tidal Wave, the student organization behind Tulane Homecoming, and ultimately sparked a myriad of changes to the 2018 Homecoming Court selection process.

“It was easy to see that the application, they put that line in there without considering the logistics of how things would actually work, and once we got into the logistics, that’s when we saw things were gonna be,” Gaines said. “It was gonna take dismantling and rebuilding the entire process.”

According to Gaines, the thought process behind the changes was to identify the parts of Homecoming in which Court members would be gendered, like on their sashes, in the interview process and when the final winners were announced before the Saturday football game. The wording of the application itself was the first of the changes. Rather than limiting applicants to selecting between “king” and “queen,” the term “royalty” was added as a third gender neutral option.

In addition to the application changes, sashes reading “royalty” rather than “king” or “queen” were purchased in advance so that Court members would be given the option of selecting which ever sash they felt most comfortable with if chosen as the final winners.

One of the larger problems Gaines and Boden encountered when trying to create a new process was the Tidal Wave constitution itself. According to Article VI, Section 1a. of the Tidal Wave constitution “the Tidal Wave committee shall select 10 nominees for Homecoming King and 10 nominees for Homecoming Queen.” According to Gaines, this sentence necessitated the temporary creation of the masculine and feminine tracts in the interview procedures.

While Tidal Wave as an organization was unable to do away with the 10 of each tract process through which applicants had to be selected, Gaines and Boden were able to get rid of the gendered element of the application and voting process. Rather than selecting five final “queens” and five final “kings,” homecoming court applicants were able to choose either the feminine or masculine tract for the interview process and were then organized as such when the student body voted for their Homecoming court.

According to Gaines, the tracts did not differ in the way they were judged or the questions the candidates were asked.

“We just needed to know which room to send them to,” Gaines said. “All of the questions are the same though. They get asked the exact same 10-15 questions in the interview, so that doesn’t really matter. But we just needed to know so that we knew where to cut.”

Lisa Currie, interim director of the Office of Gender and Sexual Diversity, said she feels the changes open opportunities for students of all gender identities to feel included in the process of Homecoming.

“I think it’s exciting because it actually provides an opportunity to all students, regardless of their identity, to see themselves in that role,” Currie said. “I can imagine very easily that students who did not identify in that binary didn’t see a role for themselves on court at all and so they weren’t engaging.”

Gaines said she felt it was imperative for the process to be changed because of the duty of university to make Homecoming accessible to all students.

“A non-binary student should still have just as mch access to this process as anyone else and just like any other identity, it should be regardless of identity that you get to experience Homecoming, get to be on Homecoming Court,” Gaines said. “I think it should just be something that every single student has access to.”

For Gaines and Boden, the work does not end on Saturday when the Homecoming Court walks across the field and the official Homecoming Royalty are crowned. Instead, the fight for inclusion and equity within the Homecoming process is a project that will continue into their senior year.

“The application did not reflect that statement and was still very binary,” Boden said. “So, we wanted to change it this year. It’s a stepping stone, it’s not that we’re going to walk away from it now with homecoming weekend on Saturday.”

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