Md. College Puts a New Face on 'Homecoming King'

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 12, 2006

The king's crown is made of black microbraids that fly helter-skelter off the top of the head. The royal garb is urban American collegiate: loose sweater, jeans, Rasta-style knit cap -- all in various shades of black -- and a pierced eyebrow.

Dangling from the neck is a gold cross. Holding up the jeans is a rodeo-size belt buckle with a skull, which doubles as a can opener.

But perhaps the most striking thing about Hood College's new homecoming king is that he is a she -- a 21-year-old lesbian who came out a few years ago.

Now a sizable number of people across the country also know that King Jen is gay. Her gender-bending election caused some to cheer and others to snicker, and it has created an emotional debate about diversity, discrimination and homosexuality far beyond the Frederick campus. Her victory made CNN and a handful of local and international television newscasts and newspapers.

For Jen Jones, winning the homecoming king election was not supposed to be a big deal. Jones, a communications major, said she was more excited that week about winning the "Hood Idol" contest for karaoke renditions of "Uninvited" by Alanis Morissette and "Last Dance" by Donna Summer.

"I really wasn't trying to shake things up," Jones said. "I try not to overthink things. It wasn't to make any kind of splash or political statement. It's just a girl who wanted to run for king and she won."

But Jones's coronation has shaken things up. Many on campus viewed her victory as a symbol of progress toward equal rights.

"I'm really fine with it," said Brigid Blakemore, a 19-year-old freshman from Frederick. "I don't think somebody's sexual orientation can stop them from getting what they want."

But others saw an old-fashioned slap at another undisputed minority on the campus: Hood's men. It was only three years ago that the private all-women's college became fully coeducational, and men are heavily outnumbered.

"All in all, it was a smack-down to this college's men, the way the college has been trying to be coed the past two years," said Ryan Jenkins, 20, a sophomore from Philadelphia who ran unsuccessfully for homecoming prince.

Hood College was founded in 1893 as the Woman's College of Frederick by a Protestant church. It remained a private school for women until men were allowed to enroll as commuter students in 1971.

Faced with declining enrollment and precarious finances, the college became fully coeducational in 2003 by allowing men to live on campus. Last fall, the school celebrated an enrollment record.

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