The couple's win marks the first time a same-sex couple has won the title of prom royalty at Pennridge High School and possibly in the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 23, 2021. It has since been updated.
As a same-sex couple from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Carly Levy and Courtney Steiner didn't think they stood any chance of being crowned as the prom court winners. In fact, the two Pennridge High School seniors were surprised when they found out their names were even on the ballot. "I was nervous that Pennridge wouldn't let it happen, or they would get backlash, or there would be threats because, you know, you have to expect that when you're a little different from everybody else," Levy, who's been in a relationship with Steiner since March, told Courier Times.
"I think it started with our friend Delaney," Steiner said to WPVI. "She came up to me and was like, 'Can I nominate you and Carly for prom queen?' I was like, 'Yeah, why not!'" Soon students started spreading the word and the couple found themselves on the ballot, which was changed to be more inclusive after a friend pointed out that the school should discard the traditional king-and-queen format. Now, instead of referring to the nominees as prom king and queen, they're called "prom royalty." This opened the doors for Levy, Steiner, and other members of the LGBTQ+ community to run for prom court.
On June 4, 2021, Pennridge students made history yet again by crowning Levy and Steiner as the school's first co-reigning prom queens. "Everybody started screaming," Steiner recalled. "I couldn't believe we won," Levy chimed in. "At prom, we found out we had the most votes, overwhelmingly." The 18-year-olds' win marks the first time a same-sex couple has won the title of prom royalty at Pennridge High School and possibly in the entire state of Pennsylvania. GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, stated that it had not heard of a same-sex couple receiving the honor in Pennsylvania and knew of only a couple of such instances across the country.
Making #history... at #prom! Carley and Courtney are the first same-sex couple to be named prom queens at Pennridge HS... and maybe the entire state of #Pennsylvania according to @glaad. 🌈 #Pride #Pride2021 @6abc at 6pm pic.twitter.com/TmmSufuy0Z— TaRhonda Thomas (@TaRhondaThomas) June 10, 2021
"GLAAD celebrates Carly and Courtney for their courage in living their truth with pride and joy. Props to their families, friends, and classmates not just for accepting them for who they are, but honoring them in such a public and affirming way. The world is a safer and healthier place for everyone when all are included. Congratulations, Queens," Barbara Simon, head of GLAAD's news and campaigns told USA TODAY. Steiner said that the student body electing two women as prom queens was indicative of it rejecting gender norms and homophobic beliefs. "I think it's making an impact beyond just us, and I think it's impacting our community as well," she said.
While they received immense support from the student body, the couple revealed that they've occasionally experienced homophobic micro-aggressions, curious stares, and even verbal abuse on campus. "I've been called derogatory terms, and we were holding hands the other day and we were called a slur," said Levy, adding that they reported the incident to the administration. Even after their historic victory, some students reportedly tried to discredit their victory by claiming that they only won because they're a homosexual couple and it's Pride Month. Levy and Steiner, however, are choosing instead to focus on the positive reaction from the local community, students, and educators.
"I had a teacher pull me aside the other day, and she was like, 'Congratulations! I'm really proud of the student body, it gives me hope,'" revealed Steiner. "My sister said her co-worker told her that seeing us win gave her hope and inspiration for when her gay daughter goes to high school,''' added Levy. Kallie Cooper, a spokesperson for the Pennridge School District, praised the school's student body for being the driving force behind the positive shift, saying: "What we are so excited about is that it was really student-driven, it's organic and really does reflect this grade level and how passionate they are about being inclusive."