|Gay High School
Spring, year 2001, Just Us Youth Group Art show at Allied Arts Gallery in Bellingham
Madison Avenue couldn't have planned a better publicity stunt
Or, at least they would have charged an arm and a leg for events that landed in the laps of folks planning Bellingham's 2nd annual gay youth art show. Just before their show opened at Allied Arts' Cornwall Avenue gallery, Krystal Bennett, a student out at Ferndale High School, decided to run for "prom king." Heaven forbid, the prom king is supposed to be male while "prom queen" is female, but Krystal, being lesbian, decided to give it a try.
Students elected her, partially for laughs and also, to be perfectly honest, not that many people cast a ballot for prom royalty. It's not quite like voting for president of the United States.
Ferndale High School didn't have any rules banning opposite gender from running for prom titles. The issue had just never come up in that rural school district, so Krystal was allowed to keep the title and doing so, broke new ground.
Meanwhile, back at Allied Arts, students, volunteers and parents from Bellingham's P-Flag organization (Parents and Friends of Lesbian and Gays) were busy setting up the show. One P-Flag mom decided to let KOMO, a Seattle TV station, know about Ferndale High School's "first ever female prom king." A story got onto the evening news and before long, everyone was talking. The art show opened to such a big crowd that people had to step outside for fresh air, but that wasn't all.
Anti gay "reverend?" Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas, got wind of events in this corner of the country. Phelps has made national headlines with his anti gay theology which even has him picketing funerals of AIDS patients. Where ever he goes, national media follows.
Calling Krystal Bennett "a vicious beast," Phelps planned to come picket the school's graduation ceremony. Local residents were horrified.
Phelps's "God hates fags" message was even too much for most conservatives to take. Reverend Small, a local critic of gay rights, scrambled with other conservative church leaders, to distance himself from Phelps' brand of hatred. Leaders from liberal christian denominations came forward also with letters of compassion, forgiveness and celebration of diversity.
Letters and columns in THE BELLINGHAM HERALD ran thick and fast mostly in favor of gay rights. Official Herald editorials also spoke out favoring acceptance. One day, an entire editorial page was devoted to the issue. Columns and letters ranged from solid support of gay people to anti gay viewpoints that practiced a form of "damage control" carefully distancing themselves from Phelps.
Even the Bellingham police got into the act when comments from the chief about respecting diversity angered Phelps's delegation. He planned to picket the police station as well. Everyone was talking while the art show was thriving on this publicity.
Some P-FLAG parents, along with Ferndale High School officials, worried that all this commotion would disrupt graduation ceremonies. A "rally for diversity" was planned to be held at another location far away from graduation. Taking the "moral high ground" it was hoped that this "alternative location rally" would provide a place for people to show support while letting the high school have its space for a normal graduation.
This rally became a fund raiser for several scholarships funds. They raised a few thousand dollars for gay and diversity youth scholarships.
In spite of all the hubbub, Phelps didn't follow through on his plans to visit this area. He became a "no show."
Ferndale High School had, for
the most part, an uneventful graduation; except for a small group of activists
who didn't follow the advise to avoid stadium grounds. Calling themselves
"Filthy Beasts" they assembled near the parking lot. It became a nice
touch of humor that received a few "thumbs up" from students and parents
on their way into graduation ceremonies.
thoughts after 2008 Over The Rainbow Festival at Mount Vernon High School
Review: Laramie Project by local high school theater