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Waukegan students elect gay, lesbian classmates for homecoming royalty

Eric Irizarry ArianReiff were crowned Waukegan High School homecoming king queen last Thursday school bonfire. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

Eric Irizarry and Ariana Reiff were crowned Waukegan High School homecoming king and queen last Thursday at the school bonfire. | SUBMITTED PHOTO

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He’s a competitive cheerleader and lifeguard who loves working with kids. She calls herself a chill person, loves doing the shuffle dance and has a dream of someday becoming a veterinarian.

Eric Irizarry and Ariana Reiff are close friends, and they are also the newly crowned Waukegan High School homecoming king and queen. Upon finding out at the school bonfire Wednesday night, both students said they were surprised.

“I really didn’t think I was going to get it because of the way I dress and the way I am,” Reiff said. “I’m not girly.”

Defying the stereotype of a homecoming king and queen — the football quarterback and the popular cheerleading captain — neither Irizarry nor Reiff describe themselves as popular, but rather likable students with lots of supportive friends.

Both Irizarry and Reiff are gay.

“Ariana and I are both out and open about our sexuality,” Irizarry said. “Our attitude is we are who we are and if that bothers people, that’s okay, but we have so many friends who accept us for who we are.”

“There are some people saying we shouldn’t have won, or that we won because we are gay, but I think our classmates chose us because they know us, and they chose us just as people,” Reiff added.

Nicholas Alajakis, the parental and public information officer for Waukegan Public Schools, explained that the homecoming king and queen are chosen strictly by the number of student votes they receive, with the provision that they are in good academic and behavioral standing.

“Students vote for classmates they feel fit whatever personal criteria they have,” he said.

“Our students are very accepting of each other’s differences in a great variety of ways,” added Dr. Steven Hamlin, director of Waukegan High School’s Washington campus.

When asked what it says about the students voting a gay and lesbian classmate as their homecoming king and queen, Hamlin said the question is something adults are more likely to contemplate than teenagers.

Reiff, who works at a haunted house and has lived in Waukegan her whole life, said she came out with her sexuality two years ago.

“Most everyone I talked to said, ‘I already knew and I was waiting for you to come out,’” she said.

“Winning this makes me feel good, because it shows me that people care for me,” said Irizarry, who plans to go to college and study business management and marketing. “They understand who I am, and they’re giving me respect. That makes me happy.”

Irizarry is part of the cheerleading squad at Cheer and Dance Extreme, which competes in tournaments across the country. He plans to continue cheerleading in college.

Irizarry and Reiff have known each other for years, but became close friends last year.

“I had some family stuff going on and she was there for me,” Irizarry said. “She’s loyal, she’s someone you can trust, and she’s a great friend.”

“Eric is one of my best friends,” Reiff said. “He’s really fun and really cool. We just kind of clicked.”

Irizarry and Reiff were honored during Saturday’s homecoming parade, football game and dance.

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