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Transgender student named homecoming queen at Iowa university

By Noreen O'Donnell

(Reuters) - Steven Sanchez danced in gold sequined pumps and lip-synched Selena Gomez's "Like a Champion" and "Come and Get It" in becoming one of the first transgender students to be chosen a homecoming queen.

Sanchez, 21, said he was still in shock that his routine had won Friday's vote at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

"I could not believe it when it happened, and I still can't believe it," he told Reuters on Saturday. "I've come so far as a person."

Sanchez, who describes himself as gender non-conforming, is not the first transgender student to make homecoming history. Last month, 16-year-old Cassidy Lynn Campbell - formerly Lance Campbell - won the Marina High School's title in Huntington Beach, California.

Sanchez said he hoped his victory would bring more attention to transgender issues.

In August, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill allowing all public school students to participate in "sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities" - from sports to locker rooms - that correspond with their gender self-perception.

Sanchez said his gender identify was in transition, though he was unsure that he would ever physically become a woman.

"I identify as gender queer so not really one or the other," he said.

When he was younger, Sanchez, who is from San Antonio, Texas, said he was bullied so badly that he left high school. He earned his degree through a program at a community college in Texas before enrolling at the 12,000-student university in Iowa.

His grandmother, mother and an aunt are all encouraging, he said.

"They're the ones who really helped me get through all the hard times," he said. "I'm so inspired by strong women. I'm surrounded by strong women who all support me and that's beautiful to me."

Sanchez performed on Tuesday and learned he won Friday night at a pep rally to prepare for Saturday's football game between the University of Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois.

For his routine, Sanchez wore his school colors - a purple ball gown, belted as a skirt, a purple shirt and the gold pumps.

(Reporting by Noreen O'Donnell in New York; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech)

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