CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — A transgender student has won the homecoming queen's crown at the University of Northern Iowa.
Steven Sanchez, 21, was crowned homecoming queen during UNI's homecoming pep rally Friday night in Lang Hall. The senior communication studies major is the first transgender student to win the honor in UNI history.
"I am completely speechless I honestly didn't even think I would win," he said. "I am going to do everything I can to continue supporting the LGBT community and encourage everyone to get involved on campus no matter what it is."
Sanchez will reign over this year's homecoming court alongside Yaw Kyeremateng, a graduate student who was crowned king. The 440 students who attended Tuesday night's competition voted to select the winners.
Sanchez performed a drag routine during Tuesday night's competition, lip synching and dressing in drag to imitate singer Selena Gomez.
"I want to raise visibility of the LGBT community on campus," he said. "And I've never felt more accepted than I have here at UNI."
Sanchez nominated himself for the title in a new court application process instated last year by the Campus Activities Board. He detailed his work in the university relations department and on the UNI Proud board, an advocacy group representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender students and others.
UNI had not had a homecoming court since the 1970s.
Katlyne Schweig, the board's homecoming executive and UNI junior, said it was reinstated last year as part of a "throwback" homecoming theme.
"It's just another fun thing to add to the week of homecoming," she said. "In high school we always had kings and queens. We thought it would be interesting to bring that into college."
A panel of students and faculty selected ten applicants based on their academic standing, responses to essay questions and campus involvement.
But any identification, like the name and gender of each candidate, was removed from applications before judges saw them, said Ashley Minshall, program coordinator of student activities.
"We wanted to make sure we were inclusive of all our students," she said.
Brad Freihoefer, director of the LGBT student services center at Iowa State University, applauded efforts by Sanchez to spread awareness about the LGBT community. He wasn't aware of ISU ever electing a transgender student as queen or king in its history.
"I think it's outstanding," he said. "I'm certainly excited and thrilled that students feel comfortable enough to come out and engage in that way."
Sanchez said he didn't attend a traditional high school because students bullied him for being effeminate. He said being crowned queen helps make up for his lack of a high school homecoming experience.