FAIRFAX, Va. - George Mason University senior Ryan Allen dresses in drag and doesn't mind being called a queen - homecoming queen, to be exact.
Allen, who is gay and performs in drag at nightclubs in the region, said he entered the homecoming contest as a joke, competing as Reann Ballslee, his drag queen persona.
But he considers the victory one of his happiest moments and proof that the suburban Washington, D.C., school famous for its run to the Final Four a few years back celebrates its diverse student body.
"I was very touched by how Mason was so supportive through the whole process of allowing a boy in a dress to run for homecoming queen," Allen said in a phone interview. "It says a lot about the campus that not only do we have diversity but we celebrate it."
The senior from Virginia's Goochland County won the pageant Saturday at a sold-out Homecoming basketball game against Northeastern University.
Large portions of the crowd cheered as Allen, wearing a gold-sequined top, accepted the tiara and the Ms. Mason 2009 sash.
The school, known for racial diversity and a basketball team that pulled off a string of upsets to advance to the Final Four in 2006, was selected the nation's top "school to watch" in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings.
Allen's selection does not appear to have caused much consternation among the school's 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. An online article in the student newspaper prompted only two comments, both positive.
Alyssa Cordova, an officer with the school's College Republicans, said she didn't pay much attention to Allen's election and is suprised by the media attention it has received.
"I just think it's kind of silly," she said.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equity and a former adjunct professor at Mason, said the lack of controversy "shows that the students and the George Mason community have a good sense of perspective."
University spokesman Dan Walsch said the school is "very comfortable" with Allen's selection and the contest rules are not sex-specific.
"It's just that if you're a man who runs for Ms., you've got to dress the part," Walsch said.
The contest was half talent judging and half voting by the student body. Allen received the most votes but doesn't know how he scored in the talent competition, in which he performed in zebra-print pants and lip-synched to Britney Spears.
He said his drag queen persona is fairly popular and well-known on campus - he has hosted events as Reann for the school's Pride Week, as well as HIV charity shows and an amateur drag night cabaret.
"Reann is very sassy, very silly. She's an entertainer throughout. She's not afraid to do a high kick if that's what it takes," Allen said. "She's got a little camp but is not as campy as some queens."
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