Four colleges in the University of Wisconsin System have decided to make their homecoming royalty court gender-neutral, Heat Street has learned.

This year marks a tipping point in the number of UW homecomings altered to accommodate transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

When UW-Stout’s 125th homecoming court was announced this weekend, recipients were honored with a “Spirit Award,” instead of being crowned king or queen. In past years, gender-nonconforming students have run for the court, choosing what gendered title they’d like to seek, but this year, the college has explicitly decided to go neutral.

“It’s a chance to make sure neither our program nor our participants felt limited by having a gender-specific pair,” says Emily Ascher, the campus activities coordinator. She added that the switch has also allowed UW-Stout to expand its homecoming court.

After pressure from student groups, UW-Platteville has also decided to have a gender-neutral homecoming court this year.

“Our homecoming committee considered it and said, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’” explains Paul Erickson, a spokesman for UW-Platteville. “It’s a 10-member court, as always, but it’s not picked specific to gender numbers.”

UW-Oshkosh, UW-Stevens Point, and UW-Eau Claire led this movement, adopting the gender-neutral homecoming courts earlier.

“Homecoming king and homecoming queen imply a gender binary, so you’re either a man or a woman, and don’t allow for anything else other than that,” UW-Oshkosh’s assistant director for student involvement told the student newspaper last year. “We know there are students who identify not on the gender binary as either a man or woman.”

By eliminating the positions, “[everyone] can just apply and be part of the competition, no matter what their gender, what their sex is,” the UW-Eau Claire coordinator for student activities told Wisconsin Public Radio last year.

UW-Stevens Point has had gender-neutral royalty for about a decade, but this year’s homecoming won’t include a court, a spokesman said.

Five of the 12 main campuses in the UW system either don’t hold homecoming at all or don’t appoint a homecoming court. By deadline, the remaining two UW campuses had not responded to Heat Street’s queries about homecoming.

Though the UW System has wholeheartedly embraced this new idea, it’s not without precedent. In the past year, high schools in Madison, Wisc., Bethesda, Md., and Texas City, Tx., have all decided to abandon gender-specific homecomings.

— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.