TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Eight years ago, 'Billy Dahling, the queen with a difference' was elected Florida State University's homecoming princess, and now that the glitter, the groans and the anti-gay graffiti have faded, Mr. Dahling says he definitely got a college education out of the experience.
William Wade ran for homecoming princess in 1980 under the name 'Billy Dahling, the queen with a difference,' drawing 150 votes to win a contest that normally attracted light turnout by fraternity and sorority members.
'I learned a lot about people from what I did,' Wade said. 'But with everything that I had to go through, I wouldn't want to do it again right now.'
Wade says he wanted to expose the superficiality of the homecoming princess contest.
'Just voting for someone because you like their picture is crazy,' he told the Florida Flambeau, an independent newspaper serving FSU.
'I'm not sorry I ran for princess. But I don't think it changed anything,' Wade said. 'People are still obsessed with images, they don't care about substance.'
Wade said he appealed to independent students who voted for him on a lark.
But people who took the contest seriously were outraged as the story made headlines nationally. The FSU Alumni Association tried to deny Wade his crown as the 17-year-old junior, a homosexual, became a cause celebre of the gay rights movement.
Wade threatened to sue and finally received his crown, an Indian headdress, but did not appear at the traditional homecoming ceremony. Actor and FSU graduate Robert Urich, who was to have placed the headdress upon the head of the princess, refused.
'I remember when the student body president crowned him and we didn't have the roses we had promised his lawyers we would give him,' said Phil Barco, director of alumni affairs.
'The flowers arrived later and I took them up to his room myself. He was still wearing his feather headdress and was very honored.'
But Wade became the target of a harassment campaign that included threats and anti-homosexual epithets that were carved on the door of his dormitory room.
He left FSU after another semester and said he completed his work toward a music degree at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He said it was tough going for a while and he ended up sleeping in a van and then a car.
Now he is working with church choirs and local theater groups and hopes to find work in the burgeoning film industry in Orlando.
'It's funny that being a nonconformist is more likely to be accepted by a redneck, heavy metal, marijuana-toking high school student than the college boys and girls,' Wade said.