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Friday, April 24th, marked the second night of RENT at CdM high school. Production of the play was in question as drama teacher, Ron Martin, reported the school’s principal, Fal Asrani, refused to allow the musical. This report received international attention, and the show was (eventually) allowed to go on.

cdmrapistsRENT was chosen by the drama department after incidences of bullying plagued the school. For example, a female student was harassed by three senior boys who, in a Facebook video, called her a “lesbian” and threatened to rape and murder her. The boys were suspended for five days, while the female student (who is straight) has been finishing her senior year from home. The boys, pictured, are allegedly Joey Jones, Max Haase, and Noah Molnar.

The ACLU sued school officials for “sanctioning a sexist and homophobic environment.” The lawsuit was joined by the Orange County Equality Coalition, a group that works for the equality of LGBT people, and was also supported by the Anti Defamation League.

Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, named a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center and well known for protesting at the funerals of military personnel, planned one of their “God Hates Fags” protests at CdM High School. The “church” sent three protesters who held signs that read “God Hates Israel,” “Fags are Beasts,” and “Bitch Burger,” which depicted a naked baby placed between hamburger buns. Why they chose to add Israel and hamburgers to the issue is beyond all sane comprehension.

Counter protesters were plentiful and determined. The OC Register reported 300 counter protesters while the LA Times reported “more than 200,” but I was there and it seemed like a lot more than that to me–easily double these numbers. Regardless, the majority of the protesters were students, and they were joined by community members, neighbors, clergy, and members of the Orange County Equality Coalition. Students sang songs from RENT and cheered when cars drove by honking in support. After about 30 minutes, the Westboro folks asked police to escort them from the premises. The entire event was peaceful.

An online fundraiser was held in support of groups that combat the Westboro crew. The “Phelps-A-Thon” raised hundreds of dollars within the half hour long protest, and the money will be split between the Orange County Equality Coalition and the Corona del Mar HS drama department.

That evening, I attended the school’s RENT production. The small theater was packed, and the audience was exuberant. I was completely impressed. The “school version” of the play was washed of curse words and the song “Contact,” along with a few other random lines, but the production held its integrity well. The kissing scenes, occurring between gay and straight characters remained–wow.

The staging of RENT at Corona del Mar High School has proven to be a very big deal. Thank you, Ron Martin and students, faculty and parents, ACLU and Orange County Equality Coalition; I believe you may have forever changed things for a whole community of people.