It was, I think, 1993. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was experiencing a rebirth in popularity in the wake of its featured status in the hugely successful movie, “Wayne’s World.” We were living in Iowa at the time, and it happened that my wife and I both had an evening free. We were watching the local evening news, and heard a story that really caught our attention. The students at one of the local high schools had decided on “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the theme for their prom, and the idiot principal and superintendent (once again, apologies for redundancy) were threatening to cancel prom if that theme were allowed to remain. You see, Freddie Mercury, as might be expected of the front-man for a band called Queen, was unabashedly gay.
Really, that was it. The lyric about “Put a gun against his head. Pulled my trigger; now he’s dead”? Not problematic at all, apparently, and certainly in keeping with the socio-sexual awakenings associated with prom. But the male lead singer liking men? Outrageous!
I remember that we executed a perfect take to each other, and, essentially in one motion, turned off the TV and headed for the door. “We’re going to the mall,” I said, although my wife already knew that. It was a half-hour or more drive to Cedar Rapids, but we got there in time to get into the record store well before closing time. We decided on the 2-CD set “Live at Wembley Stadium,” which features quite a good version of the band’s signature song, brought it home, and cranked it up… not much of a protest, perhaps, but often the most significant moments in one’s life are not marked with fireworks, but with quiet confidence that one is doing the right thing. I sometimes smile ironically and thank those bigoted morons in charge of whatever school district it was in eastern Iowa for one of the most satisfying evenings of my life, not to mention one of my favorite CDs to this day.
One might have thought that the progress we have made in the past two decades in terms of recognizing and respecting differences in sexual preference would mean that foolishness like what happened in Iowa would never happen again. Ah, but you’re one step ahead of me, aren’t you? I wouldn’t be writing about this if there weren’t some idiot principal or superintendent or school board president who has yet to inhabit the same century as the rest of us. As it happens, the site of these social troglodytes is Wasilla, Alaska. Yes, that Wasilla, Alaska.
Apparently Wasilla High School’s symphonic jazz choir (don’t ask me what that means) has been working on, you guessed it, “Bohemian Rhapsody” all year in preparation for performing the song at the school’s graduation ceremony. One senior said that “The whole attitude of the song just seems to fit our class.” But, apparently in response to “complaints from at least one parent that the 1975 hit written by Freddie Mercury wasn’t appropriate for the ceremony simply because Mercury was gay,”
No one, or at least no sane person, can quite figure out what’s wrong with choir’s doing the song, which had been played on the school intercom and at prom. But spineless principals like Probasco (I’m beginning to wonder if there’s another kind) don’t base their decisions about, well, anything based on rational argument. It’s all about what opposition will create the biggest disturbance. And, even in a school which according to one student “[touts] tolerance for all,” the path of least resistance seemed to be to pander to the “at least one” homophobic idiot parent. After all, we need to “accommodate anything that might be a sensitive issue for anybody,” according to senior class advisor Deb Haynes, who is apparently almost stupid enough to be principal.
Notice that in the above formulation, “anybody” apparently describes perhaps only one parent, but does not include the overwhelming likelihood that there is at least one gay senior, who might well feel alienated from his/her own graduation or even a little threatened by an environment at which a school choir can’t sing a song by a gay man. (Note: I’m willing to bet they sing songs by gay men all the time, just not one the parent in question recognizes as gay.) Let’s see… the school website says there are about 1200 students in a four-year high school, so that makes for a graduating class of about 300. Using the most conservative figure I’ve heard, that 2% of the population is gay, that makes the likelihood of there being at least one gay graduate this year at Wasilla High School about 99.76% [1-(.98^300)]. But that student’s “sensitive issue” doesn’t count. Why? Because he or she isn’t loud enough.
How do I know that’s the issue? Because Probasco reversed field in a hurry when the ACLU got involved. Whatever you think of that organization (I admire them; you needn’t), we can agree on one thing: they’re loud. OK, so the choir is apparently not going to be allowed to do the whole song, because
It saddens me—as an educator and as a citizen—that so many public schools are being run by idiots and cowards. But I take heart that the next generation includes some smart, tough kids like H.S. in Silsbee, TX and like Casey Hight in Wasilla, who called in a gay and lesbian support group in Anchorage and subsequently the ACLU. Those two young women are welcome in my classroom any time.