Willow Rosenberg Is Your Autostraddle March Madness 2024 ‘The Kids Are Alright’ Champion!

I wasn’t going to do March Madness this year.

I scribble down ideas for themes for the contest throughout the year and, as I looked over them, nothing really jumped out at me. Usually, I’ll start scouring the internet for shows that have flown under Autostraddle’s radar just after the new year, but this year, I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to get started. Putting together Autostraddle’s March Madness is a lot of a lot of work — a lot — and to willingly take it all on, at a time when I’d much rather just be watching basketball, was less appealing this year… and that was before I knew my teams would make miraculous runs to the Final Four. So, I wasn’t going to do it. I hadn’t mustered up the courage to tell my editors yet but I’d made up my mind: there’d be no Autostraddle March Madness in 2024.

But then, Nex Benedict died.

I didn’t need to know how he died, to know how he died. For nearly all of American history, progress towards equality has been met with backlash and progress towards LGBT equality was not immune. Since 2016, the anti-LGBT backlash has continued to foment. It’s manifested as laws that prohibit kids from reading the books that they want, being called what they want, and received the health care that they need. It has provoked rhetoric that leads to bullying and hostile environments. That backlash killed Nex Benedict.

He wasn’t the first — and sadly, he likely won’t be the last — but for a brief moment in time, the cost of the anti-LGBT backlash had a face. A sweet, cherubic, teenage face.

It’s hard to know what to do in moments like these… moments that feel too big to respond to, too big to fight back against. But when I interviewed Quantum Leap writer Shakina Nayfack a few weeks later, she said something that stuck with me. They said, “The call to duty in terms of being an interventionist storyteller is blaring. The call is blaring. It’s so loud. The need to be vocal, persistent, present, visible, because we have to throw out lifelines — literal lifelines — to save these young people.”

Those words compelled me to rethink the work that I do, generally, and to reconsider doing this contest. Yes, the work is hard but if I could connect a queer kid who reads this — or who stumbles upon it later out of happenstance — to 68 potential lifelines at once, wouldn’t it be worth it? If that queer kid could discover a new way to see themselves… a way that they could feel less alone in a world that insists on isolating them? That felt worthwhile. It wasn’t much, it certainly wouldn’t solve the problem, but it was something I could do: send forth a tiny ripple of hope.

So that’s how this contest came to be; a departure from the shipping wars of years passed, no doubt, but a tournament with a greater purpose in mind. Whether they’re brainiacs, jocks, rebels, or thesbians, the kids are alright. It’s the homophobia and the transphobia that are the problem — that have always been the problem — and not the kids. The kids are alright.


We started this contest with 68 young queer characters and then our A+ members stepped in and narrowed the field to 64. Then, we opened the voting up to our entire readership and, now, after six rounds of voting, we have our champion:

Congratulations to Willow Rosenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the winner of the 2024 edition of Autostraddle March Madness!!

Willow Rosenberg is the champion of 2024 Autostraddle March Madness

Willow really defied the odds to win the championship. Surprisingly, it’s the first AMM championship for the Buffy-verse. Of those that predicted the finals match-up of Glee’s Santana Lopez versus Willow in our bracket challenge, a whopping 69% picked Santana Lopez to come out on top. In our voting, Santana had been on a streak as decisive as anything we’d seen before in Autostraddle March Madness. But, round by round, Willow seemed to pick up steam… not just winning her contests, but expanding the margin of her wins. By the time she landed in the Autostraddle March Madness finals, Willow was earning comparable vote totals to Santana. Much like the NCAA tournament, sometimes it’s just about peaking at the right time and Willow did that and now she’s a champion.

Willow’s win is, I think, a testament to the way representation — particularly our first encounters with it — really imprints upon a person. We grow as people and our options for representation evolve with us, but there’s just something unshakeable about our connections to the first time we see ourselves. It’s deeper than just nostalgia.

“I think I would be a very different person if I hadn’t watched Buffy when I did,” my TV Team colleague, Valerie Anne, wrote on the 20th anniversary of Buffy‘s debut. “I think the dialogue helped shape my wit, I think the themes helped me channel my sadness, I think the strong women on the show helped give me a well of bravery to pull from when I needed it.”

Whether Buffy is an old favorite or a recent revelation, the lessons still resonate. At its core, Buffy is about finding your chosen family, only this one spends their time protecting Sunnydale from vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness. Over seven seasons, we get to see Willow evolve, from the nerdy, quiet brainiac to the confident rebel, who summons her magic to fight the forces of evil. We get to see her fully become herself: from pining over Xander to falling in love with Tara.

It is a brilliant reminder that we’re always growing, becoming the person we were meant to be.


For the fourth year in a row, we incorporated one of my favorite elements about the NCAA tournament into Autostraddle March Madness: a bracket competition. I finished a disappointing 22nd overall. I suppose it’s better than the Canon vs. Fanon year when I finished in 180th place, but after finishing 7th and 9th the last two years (for Better Halves and Tropey Wives, respectively), I had high hopes for a top five finish. Plus, Autostraddle Editor in Chief, Carmen Phillips, has now beaten me in bracket contests for this tournament and the NCAA tournament, so she’ll have that to lord over me until next year.

Here’s how our bracket challenge ended up:

What an incredible come-from-behind victory from “WynonnaFan” and “IIPA_muse going old school.” Once “caity’s picks” correctly predicted the Final Four, I thought for sure they had the bracket tournament won, but the aforementioned pair stormed in at the last minute (thanks to correctly picking Willow over Santana in the last round) and got the win. How’d you do in this year’s bracket competition? Where’d you finish?


Well, that’s a wrap on Autostraddle March Madness 2024! Let’s say we do this again next year, shall we… though, hopefully, under better circumstances.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Natalie

A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 401 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I have participated in these brackets for quite a few years, but I won??? What the heck! (Honestly most of my picks were just based on the ~vibe~ of each name so the fact that I won is kinda surprising me)

  2. i was also surprised i picked the final four correctly and had already planned my bracket winner acceptance speech….just in case… but hey, willow earned it! a formative queer for so many of us

  3. This was such a hard choice but Buffy is a classic and I’m not surprise Willow is still winning all these years later! Thanks for this competition, Natalie, it’s always my favorite March Madness bracket!!

  4. Willow and I were about the same age when she made me feel okay about being kinda (in my case EXTREMELY) gay. First time I ever saw myself onscreen. W/T were an actual couple, made up of developed main characters, on Primetime! It was huge! I know that for me, as a girl who wasn’t taken seriously (by straight men, who told me I was just confused, because I hadn’t had their dick yet, and some fellow lesbians, who didn’t think I looked “gay enough”–thanks femme invisibility), I finally felt like I could breathe.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!