Issak Wolfe Red Lion
Issak Wolfe, 18, a transgender student, said he was denied a chance to run for prom king because his Red Lion Area High School principal switched him on the ballot to prom queen using his legal female name. (Submitted)

"I've always known I was different. I knew I wasn't like the other kids."

That was Sierra Stambaugh's realization growing up in Red Lion Area School District. About three years ago, she came to another realization, one that explained the nagging feeling.

"It was that I identified as a male," Sierra said of being transgender.

Sierra cut her hair short, and her mom bought her men's pants. She changed her name to Issak Wolfe and has used it ever since, with full parental support.

Issak Wolfe is a Red Lion Area Senior High School senior now.

After an initial period when some people were confused and a few teachers "gave me negative feedback," he said most of his teachers and all his friends now call him Issak, and he's had a generally positive experience being a transgender student in a rural high school. He hasn't undergone surgery yet to complete the transformation, but plans on doing so soon.

That positive experience, he said, took a turn late last week.

Wrong side of ballot: Issak decided he wanted to run for prom king, complete with making flyers and posters. He said he double-checked with the prom committee and adviser, among others, that he would be listed on the ballot for prom king.

With his friends around him last Wednesday in the cafeteria ready to vote, they realized his name was on the ballot, but on the wrong side.

Issak was listed as Sierra Wolfe, prom queen candidate.

"For a transgendered person, it is degrading to have that, and I wasn't even warned," 18-year-old Issak said.

Administrators weren't in the office, so Issak said he spoke with a guidance counselor and other staff. That's when he was told principal Mark Shue had decided to switch Issak to Sierra and list him on the prom queen side.

Later last week, according to Issak and his father, William Stambaugh, Shue explained his decision, telling them it was based on tradition and he wasn't comfortable putting Issak on the boys' side of the list.

"(Shue) said the king was always a male and the queen was always a female. And he feels that's the way it should be," William Stambaugh said.

Stambaugh said the district has generally been supportive of his son, and the family's frustration is about this specific incident.

Stambaugh said he understands Shue is trying to do his job as an administrator, but "I wish he made a more progressive decision."

Issak's prom ordeal became a much-shared story on Facebook over the weekend; a post about it on Facebook.com/MyGayDay, a page dedicated to issues in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, has more than 3,000 likes.

Shue did not return calls seeking comment.

Red Lion Superintendent Scott Deisley, in a written statement on behalf of Shue and the district, declined to comment Tuesday morning, stating it would be best for the safety and well-being of Red Lion students to "respect our privacy in this matter."

Wants apology: Prom court voting is over now, with prom set for Saturday.

Issak said he has no ill will to Shue or the district, and really just wants an apology for the embarrassment and for missing out on the possibility of getting on prom court on his own terms. He's contacted the American Civil Liberties Union as well. Since the votes have already been taken, he's hoping to help prevent his situation from happening to another transgendered student at another school.

"I would like an apology, at a minimum," Issak said. "I wasn't given a fair opportunity. I mean, if I don't win, I don't win ... but I'm not a queen."

He quickly pointed out he's had nothing but positive interactions with Shue up to this point.

"I just think he made a very, very bad decision," Issak said.

- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com