Sergio Garcia stood in the gymnasium and told the senior class at Fairfax High School not to worry: If he was elected, he wouldn't wear a dress.
"I will be wearing a suit," Garcia said, "but don't be fooled, deep down inside, I am a queen!"
Garcia, 18, spent most of his years at Fairfax openly gay and wanted to be part of the Los Angeles school's prom court -- but not as prom king. He felt that vying for prom queen would better suit his personality, so he decided to seek that crown, running against a handful of female classmates.
He said it started out as a bit of a stunt and challenge -- he wasn't sure the school would allow it. But his campaign for queen ended up being serious and sparking dialogue about gender roles on campus.
A few days before the dance and election, the contenders gave short speeches on why they deserved the crown.
"At one time, prom may have been a big popularity contest where the best-looking guy or girl were crowned king and queen. Things have changed and it's no longer just about who has the most friends or who wears the coolest clothes," Garcia told the crowd of seniors. "Sure, I'm not your typical prom queen candidate. There's more to me than meets the eye."
The audience erupted in applause after his speech, and a group of his female friends spent the rest of the week wearing pink crowns and campaigning for him.
On Saturday night at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, wearing a charcoal-gray tuxedo and a black bow tie, he was named prom queen.
"I felt invincible," Garcia said.
He's among the first male students in Southern California to take the title usually owned by female high school beauties.
"It just shows how open-minded our class is," said Vanessa Lo, 18, the school's senior class president.
Lo said that she, like many students, had initially been against the idea of Garcia running for prom queen. But she said he "spoke with complete confidence" and carried himself in a way that made students believe he was serious, not a class clown or joker just trying to get attention.
"His speech was great," recalled Unique Payne, 17, a senior who said she voted for Garcia. "I did it because I support the gay community," she said.
Although many students were supportive of Garcia's run, others were upset and didn't understand why Garcia chose to run for prom queen.
"I'm not really happy about that. He should've run for prom king," said 17-year-old senior Juan Espinoza.
Espinoza said he has nothing against Garcia but believes many students voted for him as a joke so they could see the prom king dance with another guy on prom night.
One member of the prom court also said she didn't think it was right for a male student to take the crown.
Garcia, who lives in Mid-City and is an aspiring choreographer and hairdresser, said he didn't plan on running for prom queen until notices were posted around school. The qualifications didn't include gender, and he said running for king didn't quite feel right.
"I didn't really know if the school approved. I thought 'Why can't I do it?' " Garcia said. "I see myself as a boy with a different personality. . . . I don't wish to be a girl; I just wish to be myself," he said.
Some teachers and students were encouraging, others told him not to "stir things up," he said. But his close friends continued to support him, and after his speech, the campus community seemed to be coming around to the idea.
Fairfax High, which is near West Hollywood at the intersection of Melrose and Fairfax avenues, has often been at the forefront of the gay rights struggle. It has a Gay-Straight Alliance student group on campus, and Project 10, an on-site support program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, was started there in 1984 after a social worker wanted to help a gay student who was being harassed by his peers. The program has since been expanded to encompass the entire Los Angeles Unified School District.
Project 10's founder, Virginia Uribe, said she was encouraged by news of Garcia's crowning. She said that in the last two years, there have been similar elections to prom and homecoming courts in high schools and colleges around the nation.
"I think that indicates where our society is right now. That the young people, they are not involved in this whole argument about gay rights. They think this whole fight is silly. They just accept people for who they are," Uribe said. "Gender-bending is just kind of in," she said.