Utah High School Crowns Transgender Prom Queen

Maka Brown was the first transgender prom queen in her school's history.

ByABC News
April 30, 2015, 5:10 PM

— -- A day after 17 million people watched former Olympian Bruce Jenner tell ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that he identifies as a woman, a crowd of Utah high school students watched as their transgender fellow classmate was crowned prom queen.

Maka Brown, 18 and a senior at Salt Lake School for Performing Arts, accepted her crown on Saturday night after being voted upon by her peers, many of whom first knew her as a boy.

“She started that school about the same time that she transitioned,” Maka’s mother, Toni Brown, told ABC News. “There were definite challenges. She’s a dancer so there were challenges in dance classes in terms of casting.”

“Everyone had to learn and come to terms with it,” Brown said.

Maka, who was in school today and not available for comment, was the one who told her mom she was transgender before Brown had even heard of the word.

PHOTO: Maka Brown, 18, was crowned prom queen at Salt Lake School for Performing Arts in Salt Lake City.
Maka Brown, 18, was crowned prom queen at Salt Lake School for Performing Arts in Salt Lake City.

“When she was my son, she was just a beautiful boy and talented but was having some depression and not feeling good about herself,” Brown said. "When she was beginning to develop, she had some insecurity.”

“She ended up going to a Pride festival, just for fun, and learned the word [transgender] and brought it home and was happy and relieved,” Brown added. "She said, ‘I’m not the only one who feels like this.'"

Though Brown admits to being thrown “into a little bit of a tailspin” after Maka’s announcement, she quickly got behind her daughter, who is a circus performer and plans to pursue that as a career after graduation.

Maka took her middle name -- Makali’I -- as her first name after her transition and the family made it official on her 18th birthday, legally changing her name for her birthday gift, Brown said.

On Saturday, Maka's sister, 16-year-old Belle, helped her older sister curl her hair and get ready for the prom.

“She was probably her biggest supporter all along,” Brown said of Belle. “She watches out for her.”

Both Brown and the school’s principal, Dr. Susan Brady, give credit to the student body for being so accepting of their classmate.

“She was surprised that she was nominated in the first place but she was happy and felt validated,” Brown said. “When I heard that she won I was really proud of our student body.”

“She’s a wonderful addition to our student body,” Brady told ABC News of Maka. "This school is extremely accepting and non-discriminatory and we are very, very proud of Maka and this incredible voting on her to be prom queen by the student body."

Brown says that for all the attention that was placed on Jenner’s announcement, her daughter showed somewhat surprisingly little interest in perhaps the most high-profile transgender announcement ever.

“I thought she’d be a little more fascinated and she was kind of like, ‘What’s the big deal? That’s normal,’” Brown said.