By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
To the students of George Mason University: I salute you. Some of you are worried, this morning's paper reports, about losing your coveted U.S. News ranking as the No. 1 "school to watch" among national universities in these United States. You have no cause for fear in this corner of the empire. We do not scorn the election of Reann Sassie D'Loceanono Ballslee as homecoming queen. We applaud it.
The photograph in the Washington Post was taken from a distance, but Reann appears to have the requisite trim figure, glittery clothes, wide red lips, and flowing curls of a genuine American homecoming queen. That Reann is a guy—a hard-working and skilled senior in drag by the name of Ryan Allen—seems irrelevant. What does a homecoming queen do, other than pout and smile and tease and wiggle?
Reann's election demonstrates that George Mason's student body has a fine sense of humor, a stirring sense of community and—best of all—a good heart.
I lived for a while in rural Virginia, and I know a bit about the closed-mindedness of little burgs like Goochland, where Ryan grew up. He told his friends and neighbors when he was high school that he was gay. It could not have been easy. So, his election was a lively, funny prank, yes, but also a statement by his fellow Virginians about tolerance. And that makes George Mason a big-time university, and its student body No. 1, in these eyes. Thomas Jefferson would be proud, if perhaps a bit baffled.
That's the good news. Today's New York Times has a reminder that, as far as things have come in the land of the free, we still have a way to go. It tells how various public school principals in America, worried about an adverse community reaction, have been striking a sanitized version of Rent from the list of approved high school musicals. The play's themes—the fragility of love and its importance in an unforgiving world—are seen as scandalous because some of the characters are gay.
Please. Rent was sugary to begin with. My kids sang the lyrics around the house and dragged their parents to the theater, where the missus and I enjoyed it immensely. The cast performed in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, for pete's sake. Having been further sanitized for school audiences, I can't believe that Rent is too racy or subversive for any thinking young man or woman, especially those we think old enough to put on their country's uniform and defend our freedoms in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Fortunately, the kids are all right. There is a bright side in the number of schools whose seniors were allowed to present Rent this spring, and the way that, in those communities where the play has been banned, local colleges have offered the use of their halls and stages to the censored high school drama clubs. It's the kind of tolerant spirit shown by the students at George Mason.
A couple of years back, George Mason's plucky basketball team became a national Cinderella story when the Patriots played their way, against the odds, to the Final Four. That was one piece in building a national reputation. The university's acclaimed faculty and facilities have been others. And now a further small but important contribution is the election of Ms. Ballslee, who, it is said, dazzled the judges at the qualifying pageant when, in her silver bra and zebra-print pants and legs to die for, she lip-synched a song by Britney Spears.
Ryan, I will wager, has had his own, tough Cinderella story, for we as a people are sadly not lacking in mean and ugly stepsisters. Let's hope he finds a Prince Charming and lives happily ever after. Congratulations, Reann. You go, guy.
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