A transgender student was nominated but then removed by the school district from this year’s prom king ballot at Johnson High School.
Debate about the district’s decision has since stirred on campus, on social media and through online petitions.
Dex Frier, 17, a senior at the Hall County school, was nominated by the student body as one of six candidates to be prom king.
Frier, whose birth name is Phenix, told The Times he first “came out” identifying as a male his sophomore year.
“It’s not a choice,” he said.
Frier said he never had any intention of being on the prom court, especially given the size of the school body, the event’s tradition and his acknowledged differences from others on the ballot.
“It wasn’t even a thing that had crossed my mind,” Frier added.
But Frier was recommended by friends.
When he found out, Frier said he kept his emotions in check while at school, but “the moment I got home, I immediately started crying.”
“I’ve never been shown so much support before,” Frier added.
Frier said he was later informed by school officials that he could only be on the prom queen ballot.
Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the school district has never removed any student from prom or homecoming court.
“Furthermore, I will not respond publicly, in any manner, to a situation that has the potential to single out any student in any way,” Schofield said in an email to The Times. “We protect the privacy rights of our student body.”
“On a broader note, I am not interested in being responsible for placing our school district in the middle of a national social, societal and legal issue, which would have the potential to substantially disrupt us from our core mission of providing an education for the boys and girls in our community. Prom should be a time for students to fellowship together and celebrate their local school.”
Johnson High Principal Stan Lewis said he had no further comment to add.
Johnson’s prom is Saturday, March 23.
An online petition that had received more than 9,000 signatures as of Thursday, March 20, calls for Frier to remain a candidate for prom king rather than be placed on the prom queen ballot.
“This petition is absent of any malicious intentions, rather, it is a medium in which Hall County students, and students across the globe, can demonstrate solidarity in the fight for human rights regardless of gender, race, class, or any other perceived difference,” the petition states. “Our request is simple: allow Dex Frier to remain as a male member of Johnson High School's Prom Court.”
Aniyah Norman, a friend and fellow senior at Johnson High, said she and others would support Frier by “making a visual statement at our prom using trans-pride flags.”
“We support Dex because we value Johnson’s all-inclusive atmosphere,” Norman said. “Prom is for the students, by the students. This has nothing to do with legal issues, or Johnson’s administration, but with the intolerance evident in this county.”
One of two other online petitions, which had about 70 signees together, is titled, “If your birth certificate says you're male then you can be king of prom at Johnson High.”
The petition states that Frier should not be on the prom king ballot to keep “prom the way it has naturally been done. By agreeing to sign this petition we can keep this a tradition at our school and have a fun time at prom.”
Dex Frier’s grandmother and guardian, Lisa Frier, said it has taken time for her family to learn about transgender issues.
“I haven’t always understood,” she said.
More important, however, is that he is treated with kindness and equity, she said. People are entitled to their opinion but not entitled to hurt others with it, she said.
“That’s really what the lesson is children need to understand,” Lisa Frier said.
She also supports his candidacy for prom king.
“I support Dex in the pursuit of happiness and well-being,” Lisa Frier said. “I think he’s gotten a little empowerment from this petition.”
Lisa Frier said she told him that “you’ve won either way” and that she’s proud he is using his voice to stand up for who he is and what he believes.
Dex Frier will graduate soon and plans to attend college next year to study musical theater or art illustration and animation, he said.
But, first, there is prom.
“I will go to prom regardless of the outcome because I just want to be with my friends,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be surrounded by any other people.”