Zachary Willmore becoming homecoming queen indicates growing inclusion in RBHS

Photo+by+Desmond+Kisida.

Photo by Desmond Kisida.

Shubha Gautam

Dressed in a long, sparkling golden gown, Zachary Willmore walked to the center of the football field with his escort, senior Eliana Snyder, and the rest of the homecoming court. Nervous and excited for what was to come next, he exchanged glances with Snyder and, for a moment, linked his pinky with her’s before looking back down. As the mumbles of the crowd quieted, RBHS principal Jacob Sirna held the microphone and announced the name of the 2021 homecoming Queen—Zachary Willmore. Shouts pierced the air and ran rampant throughout the stadium as Willmore accepted his crown and green sash, the extra sparkle completing his golden ensemble. Willmore said the experience was surreal to him, and he felt lucky to have all of his family present. 

According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, Willmore, senior and varsity cheerleader, became the first male homecoming queen in RBHS history Friday, Oct. 22 at the homecoming football game. Documentations of his crowning are posted across the internet, whether that be on his TikTok page sporting over 1.1 million followers, or various articles written on his win by prominent news agencies like NBC, People and FOX. Beyond this, Willmore has worked extensively with the school to rewrite the dress code so it becomes more accepting and encourages people to dress how they want. 

Though he ultimately decided to use the title of homecoming queen based on the results of a quick Instagram poll, he believes it has a deeper meaning and impact than if he ran for king, as “queen” is often endearingly used to describe gay men. According to Willmore, his win proves that progress in the LGBTQ+ movement can be made anywhere. 

“I think that it is a very progressive event for [RBHS], and I think Missouri in general because we are a very conservative state,” Willmore said. “I hope that it [the win] will motivate other people to dress how they want and to be who they are. I feel like being a red state really helps because it shows that progression can happen anywhere, and I hope that more queer people can discover their identities.” 

In Missouri, inclusion of LGBTQ+ youth is scarce in schools according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educated Network (GLSEN). The organization released a National School Climate Survey in 2017, revealing 19% of Missouri students surveyed were prohibited from forming a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at their schools and 44% of them heard negative remarks about someone’s gender expression. 72% of transgender students were unable to use the school restrooms aligned with their gender, and only one in 10 remembered learning positive representations of LGBTQ+ individuals, history and events in class. This, in consideration with Willmore’s win, signifies the importance of the event, fueled both by growing LGBTQ+ representation in education and the inclusion of all students within RBHS. 

The atmosphere at RBHS is progressively improving around the LGBTQ+ community over the past three years, said Kayeleigh O’Connor, junior and co-leader of the RBHS GSA. She believes Sirna has helped change the school for the better, and Willmore’s win gives a new and improved name to RBHS. Having lived in both Mexico, Mo. and Columbia, Mo., she wishes students and staff could be as accepting in all towns across the state. 

I think [Willmore’s win] is a great thing for the school,” O’Connor said. “I’ve heard different schools use […] big stereotypes like being homophobic [to describe RBHS]. But now we are proving them more wrong than some may have thought. ​​Before this, [RBHS] was already known for being accepting of us fighting back [..] when staff took down a pride flag put up by a teacher after being ridiculed by parents [and we were able to put it back up]. But it shows not only the students but also Missouri that we don’t stand homophobia at [RBHS].” 

Willmore’s win not only represents a definite result of the growing inclusivity at RBHS, but also the ongoing progress students and staff at school are making to create a welcoming environment for everyone. Rather than indicating the start of a new social change movement at RBHS, the crowning reaffirms and comes as no surprise to the staff and student body’s effort to create an environment where every student feels valued and welcomed, Sirna said. The homecoming court planning and nomination process were both directed and determined by  Student Council (StuCo) and the rest of the body, he said. The homecoming voting process was changed by StuCo this year to allow all gender identities to be nominated, renaming the original “homecoming king/queen” to “homecoming royalty.”

I think every school, including [RBHS], wants all their students to feel welcome and to feel valued, and to be able to be themselves,” Sirna said. “I think if you go to [RBHS], I think if you participated in this homecoming experience and you were paying attention to the homecoming court, I don’t think it was a surprise, and […] I don’t think it was much different than [RBHS on] a normal day, really. My hope would be that the victory is a sign of acceptance [of] all of our students.”

Strides have been made at schools across the country to obtain equality and increase tolerance for all LGBTQ+ students, according to GLSEN, with Willmore’s win bringing Missouri schools slightly closer to this goal. Willmore’s vehement opposition to the RBHS dress code, thriving social media following and unmistakable popularity at school speaks volumes about the power of student voice. 

“I feel like progress takes a lot of time, but I hope that in the future, we’ll see a lot more diversity in the way people dress and express themselves,” Willmore said. “In the LGBTQ+ community, […] I hope that me taking this risk [running for homecoming queen] shows them that anything is possible.”

How do you think RBHS has changed in recent years? Let us know in the comments below.