Texas campus bans drag show

Amid nationwide campaign to restrict LGBTQ rights, head of public institution forbids fundraiser on grounds that drag is ‘misogyny’

三月 22, 2023
Feet walking on a rainbow road crossing
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The president of West Texas A&M University has blocked plans for an on-campus drag show, dismissing what he acknowledges to be the probable legal right to hold such activities at a public institution.

“Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralising misogyny, no matter the stated intent,” the West Texas A&M president, Walter Wendler, wrote in an explanation of his decision.

“I will not appear to condone the diminishment of any group at the expense of impertinent gestures toward another group for any reason, even when the law of the land appears to require it,” the head of the 10,000-student state campus in northern Texas declared.

The drag show had been planned for next week, by several student groups, to raise money for a nonprofit organisation, The Trevor Project, which aims to prevent suicide among young people of non-traditional gender orientations.

The action at West Texas A&M is part of growing number of actions by politicians and institutional leaders across the US to restrict LGBTQ rights in educational settings and beyond. As state legislatures convene across the country, lawmakers are considering 400 bills threatening LGBTQ rights, bolstering signs that students and faculty are leaving states with conservative leaders who impose restrictions on personal freedoms.

This year, Tennessee became the first US state to restrict drag performances, with Texas among others considering doing the same. And the private Yeshiva University in New York City shut all of its undergraduate club activities to avoid recognising an LGBTQ student group.

The Trevor Project was established in 1998 by the creators of a short film, Trevor, which won an Academy Award in 1994 for its depiction of a gay 13-year-old boy who tried to commit suicide after friends rejected him because of his sexuality.

Dr Wendler is a professor of architecture who has served in administrative roles at various public universities over the past two decades and writes weekly newspaper columns on higher education and society.

The West Texas A&M president said he endorsed the idea of supporting The Trevor Project – which has extensively documented the suffering of LGBTQ youth due to their societal shunning – but rejected drag shows as an instance of “misogynistic behaviour portraying women as objects” and said that he would similarly reject “blackface” performances on campus.

A university spokeswoman, Kelly Polden, said she could not comment on the matter “due to pending litigation”, the nature of which she declined to identify. A spokeswoman for the 11-campus Texas A&M University System said: “At this moment, we have no comment.”

More than 6,000 people signed a student-led petition calling for a reinstatement of the charity performance, called “A Fool’s Drag Race”, and castigating the president for his comparison of drag “to blackface performances and other derogatory works”.

“Not only is this a gross and abhorrent comparison of two completely different topics,” the petitioners said, “but it is also an extremely distorted and incorrect definition of drag as a culture and form of performance art.”

Outside groups concerned with campus free-speech issues joined the condemnation of Dr Wendler’s position. The writers’ organisation PEN America called his decision an “abhorrent trampling on students’ free expression rights”. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (Fire) said that Dr Wendler could not overlook constitutional free speech protections in favour of his personal theological assessments.

The student group organising the petition promised Dr Wendler that the fundraising event for The Trevor Project would be held “whether we have his support or not”. The petitioners did not indicate a location, though a student organisation has advertised another Fool’s Drag Race for a public park just outside the West Texas A&M campus, one day after the planned on-campus event.




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