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Gazette Premium Content Lesbian couple cheered after being allowed to march together at high school rally

Staff reports Updated: February 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Snow Days pep fest's royalty filed into Champlin Park High School's field house Monday, couple by couple, to applause.

Then Desiree Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom walked in, hand-in-hand, to take their place among the elected court members on the platform in front of the field house.

The pep fest erupted into wild clapping and cheering.

The openly lesbian seniors, dressed in dark suits and pink ties, and carrying bouquets of flowers, had been the focus of controversy over the past few days, after their request to walk in the event as a couple was initially denied before a lawsuit and settlement changed course.

After Monday's hourlong ceremony, featuring energetic cheerleaders, gaudily dressed dance performers and a blaring school band, Shelton and Lindstrom were surrounded by friends and well wishers.

"I'm glad it's over," Lindstrom said. "I got what I wanted. All I wanted was to be able to walk (with Shelton)."

Shelton's mother, Shannon, stood nearby, beaming. "We're very proud," she said. "They're very brave. Look how far they've come."

Shelton said she knew she and Lindstrom would have supporters Monday. But she wondered whether there might be opposition as well.

"There was a part of me that thought some people were going to say something negative," she said. "But it's not like you were going to hear them over the roar of the crowd. ... I was expecting a very good reaction. There were a couple of people who told me to watch my back. A couple of people told me I was being selfish. But this is something I really believe in, and I'm going to stand up for it."

Michael George, Champlin Park principal, said before the pep fest that he was "feeling really good about the situation."

When Shelton and Lindstrom asked to enter as a pair after their election to the court, the school decided that royalty would no longer walk as couples, but as individuals accompanied by parents or teachers. Officials said they intended to avoid making students uncomfortable and to make the point that students should be recognized as individuals, not by sexual preference.

Three parties sued on the two students' behalf, and on Saturday a mediated settlement was reached with the school district allowing the 24 royalty members to walk in as pairs, choosing their partners regardless of gender.

On Monday, most entered with students of the opposite sex. But there were two pairs of boys and another pair of girls besides Shelton and Lindstrom.

Many students voiced support for the two lesbian students.

"I thought it was really a huge step forward for the gay community," said senior Tony Brunelle. "I think they're really courageous and brave."

Some thought the episode had been blown out of proportion. "I don't think it was that big of a deal," said sophomore Alli Zoffi.

Others didn't mind the school's suggestion to have royalty walk in as individuals, rather than couples, but questioned the timing of the decision.

Not everyone was crazy about the new arrangement.

"It should stay the same as it has been for 15 years," said junior Cassie Hager.

"I feel like it should have been traditional," said senior Dylan Ruikka. "They should have walked in with guys, but I really wasn't against it."

If there is opposition to the Snow Days pep fest's first lesbian couple, it has been muted. Both George and Anoka-Hennepin spokeswoman Ellen Perrault said there have been few, if any, calls or e-mails from upset parents, teachers or students.

"The majority of the conversations have been supporting us and this process," George said.

He said conversations had actually been continuing with the students over the format of the pep fest when word came that a civil rights suit had been filed against them by the rights advocacy groups. That suit was dropped once Saturday's agreement was reached.

"If we had had a few more days to process this, I think we would have gotten the same result," he said.

___

(c) 2011, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.startribune.com

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