The president of West Texas A&M University on Monday canceled a student drag show aimed at raising money for the LGBTQ community, calling such shows “mocking, divisive and frustratingly misogynistic,” drawing students and rhetoric Strong opposition from liberty advocates.
In an email to the school community, University President Walter V. Wendler called drag shows “misfeminist,” compared drag shows to blackface, and said “there is no such thing as harmless drag.” show”.
“Harmless drag show? Impossible. I don’t seem to condone the downsizing of any group for any reason at the expense of another group’s disrespectful gesture, even when state law seems to require it,” says the e-mail wrote in the email.
Proceeds from the show will support the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ young people.
The show was originally scheduled to take place on March 31.
A university spokesman declined to provide further comment on the president’s email, citing pending litigation.
Windler’s decision and remarks drew a backlash from students and supporters who argued the move was wrong — and unconstitutional.
A Change.org petition said the university’s student body “called for the reinstatement” of the on-campus show, calling its cancellation an “indirect attack on the LGBT+, feminist and activist community of WTAMU’s student body.”
The petition alleges that the president’s comparison of blackface and drag is “a gross and disgusting comparison of two entirely different subjects” and “an extremely gross disparagement of drag as a cultural and performing art form.” distortion and misdefinition”.
In a letter to Windler, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, an organization that focuses on speech and religious freedom in academia, wrote that it was “seriously concerned” by his decision and asked him to resume acting.
“The First Amendment and Texas law protect student speech from administrative scrutiny,” FIRE said in a later statement.
“Windler, as an individual, can criticize this particular drag show, or the existence of apparent drag. No reasonable person would argue that public university administrators personally sanction every event held by every student body on campus views expressed in. But as a government actor, President Windler cannot use state power to impose his views on the WTAMU community,” the statement said.
“WTAMU must allow the show to go ahead – we will continue to watch to ensure this happens,” it added.
PEN America, a literary and free speech advocacy group, called the cancellation a “hateful violation of students’ right to free speech.”
“Drag shows should be welcome on campuses; censorship of speech that college presidents don’t like shouldn’t,” Kristen Shahverdian, PEN America’s senior manager of free speech and education, said in a statement.
As transgender issues and drag culture become more mainstream, a series of bills — mostly in Republican-led states — seek to limit or ban drag shows.
LGBTQ advocates told CNN that the bills increase community vigilance, are discriminatory and may violate First Amendment law.
In early March, Tennessee became the first state this year to restrict public drag shows. Its law will come into force on July 1.
A Texas House bill introduced this year also seeks to regulate public spaces that host drag shows.
At least nine other states are also considering anti-carryover legislation.