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Mr. Dragon event causes controversy at Sonoma Valley High School

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Mr. Dragon

Mr. Dragon will be held 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 7 in Golton Hall at Sonoma Valley High School. It is open to the public. General admission for adults is $7; students $5.

The debate over the name of an annual high school event pitted traditionalists against those more concerned with inclusivity.

Mr. Dragon, a talent show spoof of beauty pageants, will go on at Sonoma Valley High School at 7 p.m. this Thursday, March 7, in spite of the demand from some in the school’s leadership group that the name be changed because the use of the gender-specific word “Mr.” is exclusive and uninviting to anyone but males.

“From the very beginning I was against Mr. Dragon because it seemed as if the competition was only for students who identify as males, and it just didn’t seem inclusive at all,” said Sebastian Lopez, a senior at the school. “Although people were trying to say that the event was not meant to be exclusive it still was that way just because of the name. I wasn’t even against the event, I was only against the name.”

The event is currently open to all students – male, female, transgender and nonbinary. To date, one girl, then-senior Lauren Smith, participated last year. The winner of Mr. Dragon gets the title, a crown and sash, and two tickets to prom, worth at least $160 – tickets are $80 each and prices continue to go up as the date to prom nears and reach $100 apiece in the final sales week.

Last year Smith told the school newspaper, Dragon’s Tale, that she believed future Mr. Dragon events will be “more widely accepted for all genders to compete and be a more accurate depiction of the showcase of talent at SVHS.”

Last year’s winner, Alan Echeverria, also commented on how the name is exclusive. He told the Dragon’s Tale that he believed the school’s tradition will evolve. “Within the next few years a more broad range of people will feel comfortable participating.”

The name did not change this year, and was a topic of discussion during a student forum on Jan. 18. Those students who want the name changed say they want a more gender-neutral title – such as Sonoma’s Next Top Dragon, the Ultimate Dragon, or the Royal Dragon – so that everyone will feel comfortable competing. Some students, such as senior Jose Valdivia, said they would participate if the name were different.

Principal Justin Mori said in an email to the Index-Tribune that in the interest of time and the lack of consensus from the students “it was agreed that Mr. Dragon would remain as named for this year. Moving forward, all activities, including Mr. Dragon, will need to consider and ensure inclusiveness for all students in name and implementation.”

But that doesn’t provide a solution for graduating seniors who object to, or find the name segregating.

“Members of the (Gender Sexuality Awareness) club, feel extremely uncomfortable with the name,” Valdivia said. “I want to participate, but I feel uncomfortable participating because of the name and especially because of the comments brought up around the LGBTQ community.”

Gavin Lehane, Student Voice for the Associated Student Body, said he was “neutral” on the subject preferring to let the decision be driven by the majority. When it was discussed in the leadership class, he said the sense was that “a lot of the students love the tradition of Mr. Dragon and poking fun at beauty pageants.” When it was opened up to the larger student body at a forum and a survey was conducted, he said there was a narrow margin to keep the name, and then another class vote after that found the matter tied.

Mr. Dragon

Mr. Dragon will be held 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 7 in Golton Hall at Sonoma Valley High School. It is open to the public. General admission for adults is $7; students $5.

Jaqueline Alva, senior class president, said she thought students weren’t really paying attention in the student forums and weren’t taking the subject matter seriously because they were “kind of fooling around.” Another student, Antoinette Summerville, thought the survey was poorly written and designed leading to confusing conclusions. Alva’s opinion on the name was at first “in the middle” saying she understood both sides of the debate, but now supports a full change.

Lopez said he knew the topic would be controversial and that the beginning stage of discussion “was a complete shouting match. It didn’t seem like a huge majority of the leadership class understood the message I was trying to put out there.”

“The debate was happening for weeks,” Valdivia said. “It was extremely split. Some wanted to change the name, some wanted to keep it.”

Those who wanted to keep the name said it was for sake of tradition, some believing the event has taken place at the school for decades. But Valdivia said there was no mention of it in any yearbooks from 1979-2000, and Shawna Hettrich, vice principal and activities director, said she believes it started around 2009 or 2010.

Developing a separate event and calling it “Ms.” or “Mrs.” Dragon was floated, but that wasn’t the real issue, some said.

“I don’t think Ms. Dragon is a good compromise,” Alva said. “(They’re) missing the point of view for wanting to change… it’s not what we were intending. I wanted them to understand that the point was to change the name to more gender neutral. Ms. Dragon is not a solution.”

Summerville wrote in an opinion piece for the school newspaper, “To a nonbinary or transgender student, the name change promotes the inclusivity the school promises.”

“When they decided to keep the name Mr. Dragon, it really showed just how unaware (they are) of what the name is doing to other students, especially those students who don’t identify as a gender,” Lopez said.

Lopez contends the leadership class isn’t truly reflective of the student body, which is mostly Hispanic. The majority of students in the leadership class are Caucasian. “There are about nine of us who are a minority,” he said. The diversity has improved the last couple of years, he said, but still doesn’t represent everyone.

He was surprised and disappointed that there was as much debate on the name, thinking that the students of his generation are more progressive and would have understood how the name Mr. Dragon was alienating.

“It seemed as if the people who wanted to keep the event” as Mr. Dragon wanted it “not only because of tradition, but for selfish intentions,” he said.

“I remember someone saying, ‘Oh, I’ve wanted to be Mr. Dragon since the 7th grade.’ But I thought, ‘What about the nonbinary students? What if they had the same dreams,” Lopez said.

Email Anne at anne.ernst@sonomanews.com.

Watch a video of the 2017 Mr. Dragon festivities below

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