Nontraditional homecoming queen stirs controversy about gender roles

University student Kong Vang rarely skips classes, but he was fueled with enough frustration last Thursday to ditch two courses and hit the road.

The American studies senior, no relation to the writer, filled his car with students from surrounding colleges and made the hourlong trek to St. Cloud State University to attend a rally in support of a man recently crowned homecoming queen.

People opposed to the homecoming election were also in attendance.

Since his win three weeks ago, Fue Khang, 22, said he has been concerned about his safety after receiving harassing e-mails and phone calls. In response, the school has offered Khang security escorts, said St. Cloud State spokeswoman Lisa Foss.

“It’s been nerve-racking,” Khang said.

The election prompted the mother of a homecoming candidate to knock on dorm rooms and local businesses to sign a petition against the election. Foss said the university has received a handful of letters from alumni who do not support the coronation.

The Student Government Association, the official student governing body, nominated Khang for homecoming queen. Khang said the association’s president and one of its advisers have also received threatening messages.

Student government leaders nominated Khang to be queen and a female student – who did not win – for king to challenge traditional gender roles and promote tolerance among the student population, said association member Wang Vang, no relation to the writer.

A few years ago, St. Cloud State settled a lawsuit brought by administrators and professors that accused the school of anti-Semitism. The settlement totaled nearly $1 million.

This year’s homecoming royal court, composed entirely of minority students, was selected by 700 of the school’s 15,000 students. Homecoming candidates represented student groups, went through an interview and participated in activities during homecoming week.

A backlash against gays

Since he was crowned, Khang said, he has been overwhelmed with interview requests from national television and radio shows.

But he said the media have overlooked the election’s gender issues, dwelling instead on whether Khang, who wore a gown and makeup at the homecoming coronation, is gay.

“Everyone’s been asking me if I’m gay, but that’s not the point,” Khang said, saying that his goal was to challenge gender stereotypes and speak out against homophobia, racism, xenophobia and oppression.

Some e-mails and phone calls to the Student Government Association have included homophobic and derogatory terms, Vice President Bianca Rhodes said.

“The tone was just pure anger,” she said. “It was not good at all.”

St. Cloud State students concerned about the anger directed at the homecoming royal court formed a group called Support the Court Organizing and Action Committee that facilitated Thursday’s rally.

Support the Court issued a letter to St. Cloud State President Roy Saigo, demanding he hold the school newspaper accountable for what the group claims have been biased news stories. The group also demanded Saigo issue public statements supporting the homecoming royal court and reiterating the university’s commitment to diversity.

At the rally, St. Cloud State Provost Michael Spitzer said Saigo read a statement in support of the homecoming royal court at a Student Government Association meeting. In addition, Spitzer said he requested a meeting between student representatives and the faculty adviser of the school newspaper.

He said the university has a zero-tolerance policy on violence and added that the majority of threats came from outside the campus community.

A public rally and public dissent

But not everyone in the crowd was a supporter of Khang.

Annie Ferber, a first-year St. Cloud State student and candidate for homecoming queen, attended the Support the Court rally to offer a dissenting opinion and said the event focused too much on racism and not enough on the issue at hand.

“They didn’t really talk about Fue being a man,” she said.

Ferber’s mother, Kim Ferber, said she was very upset with the election.

She said she had previously collected 500 signatures from students and community members in a petition. The petition demanded the university make a rule requiring future homecoming queens to be female and asked that Khang give his title to the runner-up.

“We feel that it’s a disgrace to our college and a disgrace to us,” Annie Ferber’s mother said. “They should have enough sense that a queen should be a female. It shouldn’t have to be in the rule book.”

Kim Ferber said she spoke to St. Cloud State administrators and wants to clear the situation up as soon as possible because she does not want to see Khang threatened or hurt.

University officials were not available for comment.

Robert Johnson, professor of ethnic studies at St. Cloud State, spoke at the rally and said students elected Khang in a fair process, and he didn’t understand why people were upset.

Johnson challenged students to think beyond the school’s homecoming royal court.

“Don’t worry about who’s king and queen,” he said. “Challenge those elections where our fellow citizens can’t vote for a free and open matter.”

Ave Giorgio, a rally organizer, breezed through the crowd of students at the event in a jean jacket. A white cloth with the words “Support the Court” was pinned on his back by rainbow-colored buttons. He said Khang’s experience illustrates just one of many examples of hate and intolerance.

After many congratulations and hugs at the rally, Khang spoke to supporters and said he will not be silent.

“I am not afraid,” he said.

Despite missing two classes and receiving a parking ticket in St. Cloud, Kong Vang said he remained optimistic.

“If we don’t stop it there, it might bounce into other institutions, and the same actions might occur,” he said. “We’re going to have to break the surface, but it’s not going to be an easy process.”

Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]