William Wade’s Different Royal Path

Finding out you have won enough votes to be the Homecoming Chief or Princess at Florida State University must be a life-changer. As the winner, you have so many events to look forward to: riding in the parade as “royalty,” being presented to the crowd at the Pow Wow event the night before the game, the Homecoming Breakfast, and the crowning at midfield during the Homecoming Game while being presented with your Court.

The One Exception

Seventeen-year-old William Wade ran for Homecoming Princess on a whim in 1980. To qualify, a candidate had to be an FSU junior or senior and have a 3.0 grade point average. He was a junior (he had entered FSU having completed two years of college-level academic work) and he had a perfect GPA.

Much to everyone’s surprise, William, running as “Billie Dahhling,” won.

The outcry following William’s victory and the intense pressure on him to relinquish the title are well-documented. (I ran across this link — I don’t exactly know where it came from but it seems to capture the relevant facts and a few interesting quotes I haven’t read elsewhere. The Tampa Bay Times articles below also detail the chronology.)

His crown was presented to him at the Pow-Wow the night before the Homecoming Game, but he was not part of the halftime festivities at midfield. One of the reasons he was not permitted to participate in the crowning was the death threats that had been received.

I Didn’t Understand or Find It Funny

Sixteen-year-old me, in the middle of my junior year in high school and planning to attend Florida State University, was not amused. I was embarrassed and disdainful that someone would take it upon himself to disrupt a beloved tradition.

(My not about you revelation and the start of my choice to be an ally was a few years away.)

Reconciling the Past

When Phil Barco, the 1975 homecoming Chief who had been director of student activities in 1980, began assembling a reunion of former Chiefs and Princesses in 2015, William Wade was on the guest list. (Phil and William had reconnected a few years prior.)

William Wade wasn’t on the guest list as a question mark, an asterisk in history, or an unknown commodity.

William Wade was on the guest list as Florida State University’s 1980 Homecoming Princess.

Saying Goodbye

William Wade passed away February 26 from complications of colon cancer.

Tributes shared by people with whom William crossed paths, especially friends and former students, are full of grief, deep gratitude, and humor.

One of my favorites came from his friend Ilyce Meckler:

William observed the world around him and saw injustice hidden in plain sight. He deeply understood and felt the pain of those without a voice and set out to challenge society’s conventions through his music. Wearing little armor himself, he forged ahead by composing powerful musical theater while balancing a mirror for us to see the strength that we all have inside ourselves to make change.

Ilyce captures qualities of William I hear echoed repeatedly:

  • He was an astute observer of the world
  • He especially sensed injustice and refused to back down from it
  • He was, for the most part, “without armor”

I read that William’s quest to be Homecoming Princess wasn’t about the “princess” parts — wearing a beautiful gown, being crowned with the ceremonial headdress — but because the whole process seemed so superficial and steeped in gender stereotypes.

Armor-wise, there probably isn’t anything that could have reinforced his psyche and his body once he stood his ground on keeping his title. Once the ACLU got involved and helped broker an agreement the Friday prior to homecoming on Saturday. Once the rocks were hurled at him and the death threats came his way.

A 2018 Birthday Remembrance

My goal of creating a post all about William is to celebrate the difference he made for others.

For the Juilliard students he served as an accompanist.

For the Dance for Parkinsons program he provided music for, earning him the New Yorker of the Week designation in 2014.

For the friends across the years he thrilled with music and friendship.

William Wade

To learn more about William’s journey, read What happened to William Wade? After 35 years, hope for a real homecoming and Epilogue: William Wade, scorned as FSU princess, helped others rise through music, both from the Tampa Bay Times.

I found out from one of the Tampa Bay Times articles that William’s campaign motto had been “A queen with a difference.”

The ridicule I felt in 1980 turned to admiration by 2015.

We may never know the toll 1980’s events took on William. I suspect it was quite a heavy one. In this 1988 article, he says, “I’m not sorry I ran for princess. But I don’t think it changed anything.”

Whatever the afterlife holds for him, I am positive there will be no hurled rocks, no death threats, no hatred.

What a welcome relief that must be.

And I hope William knows that he did, indeed, change things.

Happy birthday, William.

William with Doby Flowers, 1970 Homecoming Queen, and Clara Moffitt Howell McKay Moorman, FSU’s first Homecoming Queen (1948).

I am committing my “Donate a Photo” contribution today to GLAAD in William’s memory. Learn more about how you can direct $1 per donated photo to a cause you love by clicking hereWilliam Wade

This post will be linked to Kat Bouska’s site, for the prompt “write a post using the word ‘found.'”

William Wade


When A Check-In Says More Than “I Was Here”

When my children were little, this conversation occurred more times than I can count.

Me (as we leave church): Where do you guys want to eat?

Wayne Kevin: Chick Fil A!

Me: They are closed on Sundays. Pick something else.

[insert toddler grumbling and failure to understand here]

Him: Why?

Me: Because they believe that Sundays are for worship and rest.

Him: That’s stupid.

Although these interactions always frustrated me from the standpoint that it is so hard to explain to a little kid why a business’s values are such that they close on Sundays, I also, underneath the conversation, was always giving Chick Fil A a pat on the back for sticking to their guns. Our world is 24/7 in so many ways. It’s not like we were going to starve; they were standing up for what they believed in and improving the quality of life for their employees at the same time. It was, to me, a good thing.

Those same children are now 13 and 16. They have not asked me about the current media furor over Chick Fil A. My daughter has been out of town throughout it all, and my son remained locked in his usual Minecraft haze until leaving town today for a week.

But it will come up soon enough. One of them will want to go to Chick Fil A, a favorite restaurant of theirs. If I agree, I will check in on FourSquare. In doing so I will worry that I am a) offending my friends who believe in marriage equality b) sending a message to my friends who oppose marriage equality that implies I agree with their position and c) giving my money to an organization who will eventually (possibly) use part of it to espouse a cause I would never knowingly support.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the intersection of businesses I support and the message my patronage of these businesses means.  There are businesses I visit much more often than Chick Fil A – Publix, various convenience stores where I buy gas, Walgreens and CVS to name a few. I have no clue how their owners feel about any moral or civil matter.

Which gets me back to Dan Cathy, Chick Fil A’s COO. In recent statements, he reiterated his long-held belief that the only acceptable model of marriage is marriage between a man and a woman. He does have a right to say what he believes. What this situation has done for me has made me go back a few years, poke around in various other press pieces, and try to put this current furor in some kind of broader context.

I have read about how the Jim Henson Company has decided not to partner with Chick Fil A to provide children’s meal toys and has donated the amount their income from the partnership to GLAAD.

I have read Sean Breslin’s post that, in my opinion, strikes a thoughtful balance between acknowledging Dan Cathy’s right of free speech, reminding us that the young people working at CFA are not the ones creating this problem, and teasing out the difference between purchasing a fast food meal and condemning an entire segment of society.

I have read this HuffPo article summarizing the current flap, quoting the original statement made by Dan Cathy, and taking the temperature of some diners.

I have read this April 2011 article about the pitfalls faced by Chick Fil A’s attempts to maintain “functional neutrality” when its donations to a marriage seminar led by the Pennsylvania Family Institute led to protests by college campuses and a retraction of a speaking invitation that had been issued to Dan Cathy by a Chamber of Commerce.

I read this article, that contrasts devout Southern Baptist Dan Cathy’s approach to leading Chick Fil A with Devout Mormon Bill Marriott’s approach to leading Marriott.

I read this article, by Ken Coleman, to whom Dan Cathy made the remarks about gay marriage that touched off this most recent wave of notoriety. I had never heard of Ken Coleman until I read this, but I agree with his statement, “Stand for what you believe in and engage in the public discourse but do so with civility and true tolerance for those who see the world differently.”

I read this article that analyzed the social media management perspective of this issue. And took from the article this quote that I love (and I don’t mean just about chicken sandwich tweets): “If there is no honesty within social media than [sic] there is no message.”

I revisited this issue from 2011, when Chick Fil A took on a Vermont folk artist and his “Eat More Kale” tshirts for copyright infringement.

I read this 10-year-old article, in which Dan Cathy talks about Chick Fil A’s philosophies, values, and business plans. (The corporation has been consistent; its current positions are not anything new.)

I read this 2010 article about the chain and how its management interweaves beliefs  with business.

I read several articles that referred to the out of court settlement reached after a Muslim CFA manager sued CFA for discrimination when he was fired after refusing to participate in a group prayer. It is one thing for an organization’s leader to express a personal opinion about marriage equality. It is a completely different and more insidious thing to force employees to participate in faith traditions that they do not embrace. (I can never get Barbara Ehrenrich’s stint at Wal Mart, including forced (uncompensated) work before clocking in, out of my mind when I reluctantly shop there.)

It has become challenging to follow the flood of press items about the current issues faced by CFA and make a decision about whether or not I will change my practices. I have decided this:

Just like I sent JC Penney an email to express my appreciation for them using families of all compositions in their advertising, I am going to share this blog post with Chick Fil A to express my opinion as a consumer. I want them to know that as much as I adore their responsive customer service, I am paying attention to how they treat everyone, their employees and their customers. My expectations have been raised that they will aspire to aspire to do what they said on their Facebook Page:

The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.

If you want to chat about this, let’s find a middle ground and throw a little revenue the way of a local business. If we choose wisely, we can look each other in the eyes over  great food, and practice civility and tolerance while funneling money back into our own community.

It’s really the least we can do for one another.