A 17-year-old boy who says he was kicked out of his former Christian high school for being transgender is turning the other cheek ― and adjusting his crown ― after being named homecoming king at his new school.
Stiles Zuschlag was bestowed the social accolade at Noble High School's homecoming game in North Berwick, Maine, on Friday night, just one month after beginning his senior year at the public school.
"This experience feels like a dream. It's something I never thought could have happened to me," he told HuffPost by email on Sunday.
The Cinderella moment followed Zuschlag making national news last week after he was told that he was no longer welcome at Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth, New Hampshire ― roughly seven miles southwest of Noble High. It followed him transitioning from female to male in 2015, he told the Seacoast Online at the time.
Zuschlag, who said he had a 3.89 GPA and aspired to be valedictorian, said he went to speak with a school administrator in August about being identified as a male but was instead given an ultimatum. He had to confess his sins, stop taking testosterone treatments and receive Christian counseling or find a new school.
The school administrator, reached for comment by Seacoast Online, declined to speak about Zuschlag's case citing privacy issues. A request for comment from the school by HuffPost was not immediately returned.
Though the idea of attending a new school "terrified" him, he enrolled at Noble High and made a number of new friends, adding to a few that he already knew.
Administrators at Noble High School, reached by Portland station WCSH-6, said Zuschlag is not their first transgender student.
"We want all students to feel like they belong here at Noble High School," the school's director of counseling, Nancy Simard, told the station. "That's a small thing we can do to help them feel like they're a part of the community."
That welcoming feeling apparently wasn't lost on Zuschlag.
Within the first few weeks of school, Zuschlag said an email began circulating seeking nominees for homecoming king and queen and he decided to pursue it, initially "as a joke."
"I asked on Snapchat as a joke to put me in and people actually did it. I didn't really expect them to. I still can't believe they did that for me," he said.
His surprise was only magnified when he showed up to the game and won.
"After I won at the homecoming game, I almost started crying. My friends all put me in, people I didn't even know put me in, everyone voted for me on the final ballot," he said.
I almost started crying. My friends all put me in, people I didn't even know put me in, everyone voted for me on the final ballot."
Today, as painful of an experience as this has been, he sees his removal from the New Hampshire school as a blessing from God ― one that he hopes will raise awareness and inspire others.
"I've been degraded so much in the past, I've conformed to other people's beliefs and standards just to make them happy and comfortable. I've put myself in situations really hurtful to my mental health just to keep peace," he told HuffPost.
"God forced me out of that situation, that school, knowing that my mental health was far more important than my education. The only reason I stayed at the school for so long was for my education, for my GPA, and to just learn about God. But I was also dying there mentally and I suffered a lot," he said. "God took me away from that to help me be a better person, to breathe again, to be happy again. I'm so grateful He did that for me."