Ninth-grade Lee Haskett was practically numb from anxiety as he sat his mom down to tell her something he had been hiding from her almost his entire life. As someone who grew up in a very religious household, he knew written into the Bible were the words, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
But while he was terrified to tell his mom he was gay, he did it. She started bawling. Now too afraid to tell his dad, he asked his mom to tell him instead. His coming out sent his home into chaos, with his parents sending him to his aunt’s house for a few days so they could talk about what to do with their gay son.
“They didn’t take it very well in the beginning,” Haskett said. “They didn’t understand why.”
Yet, he found peace in coming out to his Generation Z friends, who grew up during a time when more people understood and accepted LGBTQ+ people. Coming out to them was an entirely different experience — something reflected as he took the stage to be crowned Allen High School’s first LGBTQ+ prom king.
“All my friends were like, ‘Yeah, we kind of knew,’” he said and laughed.
Haskett, whose parents adopted at 3 months old from South Korea, knew he was gay since he was in the third grade. And while others at his elementary school probably didn’t understand the idea of sexual orientation, it had already been ingrained in their minds by the adults in their lives to pick on people who were different. And Haskett found that kids had plenty to pick on him for. He hated sports and liked hanging out with girls — both things that differ from male gender norms.
After coming out to his parents while in ninth grade, he decided to come out to his grandparents, who he was also afraid to tell. His fear resulted in him deciding to tell them via email in the bluntest way possible.
“It was a very short, quick email saying, ‘I’m gay,’ period, and sent it to them,” Haskett said. “They didn’t respond to that at all.”
He decided to follow up with another email asking them about their opinions and thoughts on his coming out. A few weeks later, his grandparents sent him a three-page PDF document in response with “shortsighted” and “ignorant” questions about his sexual orientation.
But the lack of acceptance he experienced throughout his life didn’t stop him from being himself. Once he came out in ninth grade, he slowly started wearing high heels to school. By the end of tenth grade, he had finally worked up the confidence to wear them every day.
The confidence that Haskett built up over the years after coming out to wear his high heels to school every day directly aligned with the reconciliation of his relationship with his parents. After group and individual therapy, Haskett said his parents slowly started to accept and support his sexual orientation.
“It took them a long time to come around and actually be supportive, but they did,” Haskett said.
By the time the idea of running for prom king while wearing drag popped into Haskett’s head, his parents had turned over a new leaf. But that didn’t mean they thought running as an LGBTQ+ prom king was a good idea.
“When I told my parents, ‘Hey, I want to run for prom king, but I want to do it in drag,’ they were like, ‘Nu-uh. No, you can’t do that,’” Haskett recalled. “They were more worried about my safety than anything.”
And that fear was not unfounded. Even now, as multiple news outlets have reported about Haskett’s crowning as Allen High’s first LGBTQ+ prom king, many of the comments have been nothing short of vicious, from attacks on how he was dressed to others praying he gets help.
However, Haskett doesn’t even bother with the comments. His rule of thumb is just never to read them. But his mom doesn’t stick to that rule, even though he begs her not to read them because of how much they hurt her.
“But my response to them is like, if you have that much time to say those things, you should be doing something more productive,” Haskett said. “So I went on ahead and ran for prom king kind of against my mother’s wishes, but I’ve kind of always done that.”
And the process of actually being chosen wasn’t easy. Haskett said anyone could fill out the Google Form, and the student council will put you on the prom court. There are two voting stages where fellow classmates help narrow down the choices. After the second round of voting, the only ones left were three girls and three guys — and Haskett was one of them.
“I was just really, really happy that I even made it to stage two,” Haskett said.
The bigger picture
But Haskett was not the only member of the LGBTQ+ community to be crowned prom king or queen this year. Over in Ohio, a high school in Kings Mills elected a lesbian couple as prom king and queen this year, NBC News reported. And USA Today reported that at a high school in Pennsylvania, students also chose a lesbian couple to be crowned the school’s first co-reigning prom queens.
Of course, the two women crowned in Ohio were met with severe backlash. According to Metro Weekly, parents attacked the school’s decision to allow a gay couple to win at a school board meeting.
The backlash from parents, most of whom likely belong to Generation X versus the Generation Z students who voted them in, represents a much larger picture as younger generations have been found to be more accepting of LGBTQ+ community members.
According to the Pew Research Center, 48% of Generation Z respondents and 47% of Millennials say gay and lesbian couples being allowed to marry is a good thing for society. But only one third of the Generation X respondents and 27% of Baby Boomers said the same.
Rachel Hill, community outreach and engagement manager (North) at Equality Texas, said that while younger generations overall are more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, many LGBTQ+ kids still face bullying. She said 70% of LGBTQ+ students in Texas report experiencing at least one form of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in school.
“Teachers across the state have confided in us that they’re currently seeing the worst bullying in their classrooms than they’ve experienced in years, and we frequently have families who contact us with requests for help for their kids experiencing harassment at school by both their peers and the adults meant to support them,” Hill said.
So while LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance have made huge strides in some ways, such as the repeal of state sodomy bans, marriage equality and employment nondiscrimination protections, in other ways, they haven’t, Hill said.
“Unfortunately, some things have not changed – many still use fear and misinformation to demonize the community to support discriminatory policies and keep LGBTQ+ individuals from having full equality under the law,” Hill said.
It was about 11 p.m. on an April night when Allen High School students gathered into the stands at the football field. Slowly but surely, the candidates for prom king and queen were brought down to the field.
Haskett took his time making his way down the bleachers with the other king and queen candidates — but not in an effort to make a grand entrance. He was in 10-inch heels and wearing a mermaid-style prom dress he had spent hours and days handcrafting.
He had gotten into fashion at a very young age, first inspired by the “beautiful, intricately detailed” quilts his grandmother made. He taught himself to sew and spent his childhood designing outfits for Barbies. Now, everything he creates is straight from “brain to paper” — a top-notch talent reflected by his acceptance to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, where he will study women’s fashion design in the fall.
And his brainchild-dress took new life as he stood next to the other two prom king candidates. Both of the other candidates’ names were called before Haskett and received “some scattered cheers here and there.”
But nothing could compare to the roar of the crowd when Haskett was crowned Allen’s first LGBTQ+ prom king. Even outside, the cheers were so loud that Haskett could hardly believe it — a testament to the love his friends have for him, regardless of his sexual orientation.
“That’s the moment I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. People actually like what I do and look up to me,’” Haskett said. “I thought that was super cool.”
What’s it like to come out in Collin County? Read Dawna Hubert’s honest, personal story here.
Read about how attorney Lorie Burch conquers her LGBTQ+ journey in the business world here.