Senior Laura “Josie” Herrera is in the running to be MU’s first genderqueer Homecoming king, changing the long-standing tradition of Homecoming Royalty.
Herrera said the term “genderqueer” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
“I feel I encompass both genders,” Herrera said. “I don’t identify fully as a cisgender woman — if you don’t know what cisgender means, it’s just when you identify with your biological sex, but I don’t fully identify that way. I also don’t identify as a trans man, so I kind of feel like I fall into this kind of strange, kind of confusing middle space.”
Herrera, who prefers to take the pronoun “them” or “they,” has identified as queer and as part of the LGBT community since they were in middle school. They have identified as genderqueer since spring.
Herrera was named one of the top 10 candidates for Homecoming Royalty earlier this month. They said making the top 10 was completely shocking. Their original goal was to make top 30.
“Everyone was congratulating me on making top 10, but I still couldn’t believe it for at least a few days,” Herrera said. “I wasn’t feeling all of the impact yet. It took a while to understand, ‘Oh, wow, I’m actually doing this. This is a really big deal.’”
Herrera first considered running for Homecoming Royalty their junior year, but the idea to run for king instead of queen was first presented by a friend.
“A friend of mine kind of asked, ‘Hey, would you run for king or queen?’” Herrera said. “And I didn’t really think about it that way because I didn’t really think it would be an option.”
After discussing the idea with friends and mentors, Herrera said they decided to at least give running for king a try and submitted the application.
Herrera said being the first genderqueer candidate to run for Homecoming king has been a scary experience.
“I don’t know how people are going to react; I don’t know how it’s going to be seen in the public, if people are even going to understand what being genderqueer means,” Herrera said. “But … so far … the university and my friends and the overall community (have been) really supportive. It’s been really empowering and makes this whole process much less scary.”
Herrera said people around MU have been supportive since they came out as genderqueer.
“Even people I don’t know who either live in CoMo or (are) students, or even alumni who now live in other states, have stopped me around campus and have been like, ‘Oh, I’m super happy for you, and super excited,” Herrera said. “I think it just says a lot about our university and the progress we’ve made and where we’re going. Not everything is perfect, but it’s clearly getting better.”
Homecoming Steering Committee adviser Aly Friend said since Homecoming is student-run, MU wants to be representative of the students’ diversity.
“It just says that we’re constantly changing and always trying to be very representative and respectful of the makeup of our student body,” Friend said. “And (we) just want to keep in mind the different diverse backgrounds that the students have.”
Herrera said they want to be transparent and truthful throughout the run for Homecoming king.
“In the perfect world and at the end of the day, I can only represent myself as a person and I feel like I am doing that honestly,” Herrera said. “And I’m happy to represent myself in this way. I’m not lying about my gender identity. I’m not pretending to be someone who I’m not. I’m trying to be very open and honest about it.”
However, as a genderqueer, Latino and first-generation American, Herrera said they feel like they are representing a larger community of students as well.
“I think, in the end, there is kind of an idea that I get to represent these communities,” Herrera said. “I’m really proud to be able to do that. It’s kind of a hard, weird position to be put in, but at the same time it’s also totally necessary.”
MU’s 102nd Homecoming celebration is Oct. 26. The king and queen will be announced during the football game against South Carolina.
“I think we’re all just really proud of the tradition we have and want to continue to represent it in the best way possible,” Friend said. “And by representing the students and their backgrounds and where they identify kind of helps keep the tradition alive.”
Herrera said they wouldn’t change anything about their experience as a Homecoming king candidate.
“It’s just been very, very vocal and supportive,” Herrera said. “I’m super lucky to have this great support system of people who are excited and are happy this is happening, regardless of how it goes.”