Miami-Dade County

Prom queen in a dress? Not this guy this night

After coming out of the closet this, his senior year at Flanagan High, Omar Bonilla decided to take it a step further: run for prom queen.

He almost won -- Bonilla was among the top three vote-getters -- but in the past few days, it all unraveled.

Fearful that other students would try to beat up a prom-goer in drag, the school administration asked him to wear a tuxedo to Friday night's dance. And after two meetings with the school principal to plead for the right to wear a dress, Bonilla was slapped with a two-day suspension, the timing of which meant he couldn't go to the prom at all.

As students were racing off to prom, Bonilla was putting on his blue sequin dress -- but only to pose for a Miami Herald photographer.

``This week was kind of, like, intense,'' said Bonilla, 19.

It all started last month when the senior at the Pembroke Pines school decided he wanted to run for prom king, but with the intention of wearing a dress. School administrators ran the idea through the higher-ups and told Bonilla that prom queen might be more appropriate -- an option he liked even better.

In soliciting votes from students, Bonilla -- like all other candidates -- posted posters around campus. His read ``vote Omar for prom queen -- time for a change.''

Along the way, Bonilla made the concession that, if he won, the prom king wouldn't have to dance with him, as some kings might not be comfortable doing that.

BEHAVIOR CITED

Flanagan's principal, Sharon Shaulis, referred questions to a Broward schools spokeswoman. That spokeswoman, Nadine Drew, said Flanagan banned Bonilla from prom because of his unruly behavior -- not his unconventional wardrobe plans.

On Thursday, Bonilla had a meeting set up with the school principal -- his second sit-down in two days. He was running late and inappropriately parked in a visitor parking space at the school. When schools police told him to move his car, he didn't heed their warning.

Bonilla said the principal -- citing rumors that other students might try to beat up a prom-goer in drag -- asked for him to come in a tuxedo instead of a dress. A schools police officer sat in on the second meeting.

SAFETY AN ISSUE

Drew confirmed that administrators were worried about safety.

``More than ever before, those are real concerns these days,'' she said. ``Those are all taken very, very seriously.''

Bonilla refused to back down. A few hours after he left that second meeting, Bonilla was informed he'd been suspended.

DID NOT WIN

That was also the day the school announced Bonilla had come close, but failed to win, the title of prom queen.

``They were looking for an excuse for me not to go, so they said I got suspended for a `minor disturbance,' '' Bonilla said.

The suspension, said Drew, the spokeswoman, was solely because Bonilla had ignored security personnel after parking in the wrong place. Bonilla said he was in a daze that morning and he didn't hear the security guards.

Drew insisted otherwise.

``He did hear them, he turned around, he acknowledged them,'' Drew said. ``But he did not heed or stop. . . He ignored all authority along the way, and that's just not acceptable.''

`UNFORTUNATE'

California's Friends of Project 10, a nonprofit which provides educational support services to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students, called the last-minute nature of Bonilla's suspension ``very unfortunate.'' Education Director Gail Rolf said Bonilla likely could have received help from advocacy groups if there were still time to appeal the decision.

``The question is, would they have suspended another student for the exact same behavior?'' Rolf said. ``Because if not, that's a lawsuit right there.''

Bonilla certainly wasn't the typical prom queen candidate, but openly gay male students have run for the post at other schools before. Last year, at Southern California's Fairfax High, student Sergio Garcia actually won the title of queen, though he nevertheless showed up in a tux.

`PROVE A POINT'

Bonilla said Flanagan is generally an accepting place when it comes to gay students, but his desire to wear a dress and become prom queen was aimed at those students who were still scared to reveal their true selves.

``I wanted to just make a stand and prove a point,'' he said. ``Everybody is your friend, and you don't have to care what people say.

``Be fierce about it,'' he said. ``Show that you work it.''

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