Education

Transgender student wins Holly Ball crown at Derby High

Transgender student crowned Holly Ball King in Derby

Tyler Krayer, 17, a senior at Derby High School, garnered enough votes from classmates to earn the title of Holly Ball King at the school's winter formal. Krayer, who came out as transgender when he was 15, has advocated for LGBTQ rights at the sc
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Tyler Krayer, 17, a senior at Derby High School, garnered enough votes from classmates to earn the title of Holly Ball King at the school's winter formal. Krayer, who came out as transgender when he was 15, has advocated for LGBTQ rights at the sc

Tyler Krayer, a transgender student and advocate for LGBTQ rights at Derby High School, was crowned Holly Ball King at the school’s annual winter formal.

Krayer, 17, garnered more votes from classmates than three other nominees to win the title, which was announced during the Saturday night dance in the Derby High commons area.

“I was really surprised. I wasn’t expecting to win because there were so many, like, athletic candidates,” he said Tuesday.

He learned about a month ago via Twitter that he had been nominated by a classmate. “I was like ‘Am I on “Punked”? Where’s Ashton Kutcher?’ ” Krayer said.

“I kind of saw it as a joke, but then I was like, ‘Oh, wait, this is serious,’ ” he said.

Krayer, who came out as transgender when he was 15, says he faced harassment and bullying at previous schools before moving to Derby about a year and a half ago.

In July, he was one of several students who testified before the Derby school board in favor of a school policy that allows students to use bathrooms matching their gender identity.

Liz Hamor, co-founder of the Wichita chapter of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said Krayer’s crowning at the Holly Ball marks a significant development for the school and community.

“I’m very proud of Tyler, because by living authentically and visibly, he’s allowing other trans- and gender-nonconforming students to know that they’re not alone. And I think that’s particularly important for areas like ours,” Hamor said.

By living authentically and visibly, he’s allowing other trans- and gender-nonconforming students to know that they’re not alone.

Liz Hamor, co-founder of the local Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network

“It’s also proof that our youth are leading the way,” she said. “They are embracing diversity and inclusivity in ways that adults haven’t yet learned.”

Krayer told the Derby school board in July that he preferred the boys’ bathroom over the girls’ room or a bathroom in the nurse’s office, which he had been using until school officials changed the policy last spring. To illustrate the point, he offered an analogy.

“Think of a person that you strongly dislike. Then think of them picking out an outfit that you would be forced to wear forever, and you can’t take it off no matter how hard you try,” he said.

“It’s not a good feeling, is it? That’s how I feel using the women’s or the nurse’s bathroom.”

After hearing testimony from several supporters and opponents, Derby board members decided to continue following a federal directive on transgender access while a community task force explores the issue.

Krayer told the standing-room-only crowd that day that he was prompted to speak out after opponents of the policy began lobbying school leaders to require transgender students to use bathrooms or locker rooms based on their biological gender.

“Most people in this room don’t know me or understand me or people like me,” he said. “You’re afraid of change or of some kind of crazy thing that isn’t bound to happen in a school setting.

“You probably think, ‘What does this kid know? He’s only in high school.’ You’re probably right, but I can tell you one thing: I know my rights, and I know I’m not alone in this room or in my community.”

You probably think, ‘What does this kid know? He’s only in high school.’ You’re probably right, but I can tell you one thing: I know my rights, and I know I’m not alone in this room or in my community.

Tyler Krayer, Derby High School senior

Tim Hamblin, Derby High’s principal, said the school has had “zero issues” with its bathroom policy since implementing it last spring.

The Holly Ball is one of three formal dances held each year at Derby High – in addition to homecoming and prom – where student royalty are crowned. Members of the Kay Club, which sponsors the Holly Ball, are responsible for nominating students for the honors.

To be nominated, students must meet academic, attendance and behavior standards and be involved in at least one school activity, Hamblin said. Krayer met all the requirements and was elected in an electronic voting process that allows each student one vote, he said. Karoline Kennedy was elected Holly Ball queen.

Hamblin, who graduated from Derby High in 1984, said he didn’t know whether Krayer is the first transgender student to be crowned as royalty at a school dance there.

“What I can say is we had another great Holly Ball – very well attended,” he said. “Both the king and the queen met all the criteria in the nomination process.”

Amanda Brubaker, who runs a Facebook page titled Derby Community Members Supporting Trans Youth, said she was encouraged to see Krayer’s confidence grow and to see classmates welcome him.

“I think the students have spoken,” Brubaker said. “I think the message is pretty clear, that he’s a part of the community just like anyone else.”

Hamor, the GLSEN leader, said there have been only a handful of reports of transgender students nationwide earning crowns at homecoming, prom or other events. Krayer’s title is “very significant,” she said, because it shows that young people are embracing diversity.

“Our students really are changing the future and leading the way for the rest of us,” she said. “They’re more willing to learn and listen to people’s experiences, and that’s what erases the fear of the unknown that some of the adults still harbor, I think.”

Krayer said he was humbled by the honor. His Holly Ball crown – a gold sparkly top hat with white fur trim – is sitting on a trophy case in his bedroom, he said.

I think the school has come a long way – not just this whole thing, but the bathroom policy and stuff like that. I feel good about being here.

Tyler Krayer, Derby High School senior

“I think the school has come a long way – not just this whole thing, but the bathroom policy and stuff like that,” he said. “I feel good about being here.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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