Annie Wise said she will never forget the moment that she and her girlfriend, Riley Loudermilk, were elected prom king and queen by their Ohio senior class.
“It was so cool — it was like loud screaming, lots of tears,” Wise said.
The couple, who are both 18 and have known each other since third grade, started dating six months ago. They knew their friends were voting for them for prom court at Kings High School in Kings Mills, Ohio, but they didn’t think they had a chance of winning.
“Usually prom king and queen is like a popularity contest, and neither of us are really on that popularity spectrum,” Loudermilk said.
After the announcement, friends were hugging them and there was “a lot of screaming and jumping,” Wise said. “My crown fell off and it broke. There was a lot going on, but it’s something I’ll never forget. It was amazing.”
They are the first queer couple to be elected prom king and queen in the Kings Local School District, and they’ve received a wave of support.
The district shared a photo of the couple on Facebook to congratulate them, and the picture has been shared more than 400 times and has received more than 2,000 comments from people across the country.
Some of the LGBTQ commenters said they weren’t able to be out at their prom. Others applauded Wise for wearing a suit, and said their school didn’t allow girls to wear suits to prom.
“It took me forever to find this suit that I wore, because there’s like no tuxes for girls in all of Southwest Ohio,” Wise said. “But the response that I got from it is amazing. I've gotten people from our school saying that they're more comfortable being gay at Kings. It made it all worth it.”
But not all of the comments on the school district’s Facebook post were positive. Loudermilk said that the school district had trouble keeping up with and deleting negative posts, and that many of them said the couple “needs Jesus.” One commenter also said that a prom king should be male.
The issue also came up at a school board meeting last week, where one parent said, "Sorry, but I believe that there are still two genders, a male and a female," according to WLWT5, an NBC affiliate in Cincinnati. The parent added, “I think tradition stands for a queen that has a vagina, a king that has a penis and testicles,” according to Fox19.
But school officials stood by the decision. "This is solely a Kings High School senior class nominated and voted-on initiative," said Dawn Goulding, a community relations coordinator for the school district, according to WLWT5.
Loudermilk said she and Wise expected to receive some negative comments as a gay couple, but added, “It also just was kind of surprising that a bunch of adults were bashing teenagers.”
Wise added that the focus on her gender was strange.
“I just think it's weird that somebody who's old enough to be my mom is so worried about my genitalia and what's in my pants,” she said. “I think that's more concerning than having a gay couple win prom, obviously.”
The pushback from parents doesn’t represent the views of their classmates, the couple said. And, according to recent surveys, it doesn’t represent most Americans in their age group.
Roughly half (48 percent) of those in Generation Z, those born after 1996, say gay and lesbian couples being allowed to marry is a good thing for society, with only 15 percent saying it’s a bad thing, according to 2018 data from Pew Research Center. For baby boomers, those figures are 27 percent and 32 percent, respectively. A separate report published this year by Gallup found that 1 in 5 Gen Zers identify as something other than heterosexual.
“I guess it's just crazy how much our generation is evolving and becoming more supportive of LGBT rights,” Loudermilk said.
Wise added that Warren County is also one of the most conservative counties in the state, but their prom wins show that the county’s young people are thinking differently than their parents.
“Most parents are really conservative, but a lot of their kids aren't conservative at all — they're very liberal,” Wise said. “And a lot of those conservative people's kids voted for us, and I just think that's really cool that kids are learning on their own and not just taking all their information from their parents.”
They hope their win helps other young LGBTQ people who might not be out yet.
“I do hope it kind of just helps people realize that it's OK to come out, and it's also OK to come out at your own pace in your own way,” Loudermilk said. “You will get hate from it, but there's also a really big chance that you're going to get so much love and support, like we did.”