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Mesa school's gay prom king teaching tolerance

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Mesa school's gay prom king teaching tolerance

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MESA, Ariz. (AP) — It was the proudest moment of Kyle Hutchinson's life. As he stood before the crowd at Villa Siena in Mesa on May 3 and was crowned king of the Red Mountain High School prom, he couldn't stop smiling. The velvet hat that read "Prom King 2008." The matching cape. It was all so perfect.

Then the boos came.

It wasn't from everyone, but the dissent rose up from a small, but loud, group of people who were upset, not just because their favorite hadn't been chosen, but because the boy who did win had done something that had never before happened at Red Mountain.

He was prom king and he is openly gay.

His mother and father, who were in the audience to root for their son, described feeling sick at the sound of the jeering.

"He kept telling me he was going to win and he had convinced me," said his mother, Doreen Hutchinson. "When they called his name, we heard the cheering, but then we immediately heard the boos. My heart went into my stomach. It was so awful. My husband said he was expecting it, but I wasn't prepared. It was so sad."

Hutchinson said he felt bad that his parents had to hear his classmates who weren't supporting him. But he also said that their reaction is something he has known his whole life, and he wasn't about to let it ruin his moment.

"I'm always trying to be a good role model for other people. To tell them, 'It's OK to be gay. Just because you're gay doesn't mean you have to be the lowest person, treated the worst,'" he said. "But this is something I wanted to do for myself — to prove something to me."

The king and queen titles have long represented archetypal male and female roles. But gay and lesbian students have been in the news more in recent years for asserting their right to run for their place on the royal court, too, so Hutchinson is not the first and likely won't be the last.

But according to several teachers with long tenures at the school, he, by all accounts, is the very first to be king at Red Mountain in its 20-year history, at least the first to be open about his sexuality.

Hutchinson was aware of that as he set his sights on the crown in January.

He said he had always been picked on for being more feminine than other boys; for not being interested in sports, for example, or other activities it seemed all his male counterparts were doing.

He came out to his parents on his 16th birthday, and the following school year — after moving from Basha High School in Chandler to Red Mountain in Mesa — he started off the first day being open about his sexuality.

He said Mesa is known for having a large population of conservative Christians who don't necessarily support homosexuality. So he was pleasantly surprised to find that he didn't have any problems until prom night.

Now that he has graduated from high school, he hopes to continue working to promote awareness and acceptance by speaking to students who are studying to become teachers about how they can make schools a better place for students like himself.

Red Mountain student Maddy Cypert said she knows there is a lack of understanding at her school about what being gay even means.

She was disappointed that her classmates reacted the way they did to Hutchinson.

"I was hoping he would win. When he won and everyone started booing I was really frustrated by that. A lot of people at my school, they're really biased against gay people," she said. "I don't necessarily think it's right either, but I don't think people should be bullied for what they believe."

Teacher Keiko Dilbeck said Hutchinson is a student to admire for his kindness and his ability to inspire. She was disappointed by the response at prom and wrote a letter for the school newspaper to tell students how she felt about the ones who spoiled a memorable moment.

But Hutchinson said it's not what he will choose to remember most about his senior prom. Instead he'll remember that he set a goal that, to some, might have seemed unachievable, and reached it with ease and marginal opposition.

"The people who booed me, I forgive them. But, I guess there's really nothing to forgive," he said. "I refuse the idea that 'being gay' is a reason to hate someone. I refuse to accept it, it has become obsolete. Those who do hold that hate in their hearts, well, after my crowning it is obvious they are now the minorities."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press

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