Rantz: District awards middle schoolers $2,000 for student drag show

Apr 12, 2022, 5:34 PM
Whatcom Middle School (Robert Ashworth via Flickr)...
Whatcom Middle School (Robert Ashworth via Flickr)
(Robert Ashworth via Flickr)

Middle school students at Whatcom Middle School will perform in drag in the coming weeks. And the district is paying them to do it.

Bellingham Public Schools held a contest called Think BIG. A group of judges awarded up to $2,500 in funds to club leaders pitching innovative ideas on using the funds. Students said they would build storm gardens, provide serapes to graduating seniors, and even help meet student transportation needs to and from school.

The Gender Sexuality Alliance Club (GSA) had a controversial idea: a student drag show.

Middle schoolers in drag earn cash?

Student club finalists presented their “big ideas” at a March 29 event, each earning at least $1,000 for making it so far in the process. Each club submitted written applications to a panel of judges. They had 250 words to explain how the club would use the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation funds.

GSA club members said they would use their funds, in part, for a “Drop Dead Gorgeous Drag Show.” Students, not adults, would participate.

“In their application for the contest, the WMS [Whatcom Middle School] GSA stated that, if they won any of the Foundation’s grant funds, they would use them to plan a student drag / talent show and additional outreach activities to support students, such as anti-bullying posters or campaigns,” a Bellingham Public Schools spokesperson confirms to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

The spokesperson said a date has not yet been set for the drag event. The club will receive $2,000 in reward money next week.

Adult judges won’t explain decision

While drag events for college students are not wholly uncommon, it is rare for 10 to 14-year-old students to participate.

The panel of judges comprised school district officials and community business leaders: Kate Di Nitto (Associate Director of Advising & Career Services at Whatcom Community College), Tony Freeland (President of Freeland & Associates, an engineering firm), Jennifer Gaer (Volunteer Coordinator at Bellingham Public Schools), Schantell Hummel (Program and Events Coordinator at Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce), Jay Jordan (Assistant Superintendent for the district), and Guy Occhiogrosso (President/CEO of the Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce).

The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH emailed each judge with the same question. Could they elaborate on the decision to award middle schoolers for what seemed to be an inappropriate, adult-themed event? Occhiogrosso was the only judge to respond.

“I do not have much information on your inquiry,” he wrote.

The district asked that all questions go through them.

“We have heard from most of the judges of the think big event, and they aren’t interested in commenting,” a district spokesperson explained to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

Is this appropriate?

Student club members offered decidedly non-controversial and worthwhile uses for the funds.

“If GSA received a fund, and was able to use that fund to spread the queer word, we know it would help awareness with bullying and homophobia, and why it isn’t ok. It would also help people know that there is a GSA, and that it is a safe space for queer and allies all around. We want to make the world a safer space for queers, and all other peers,” the students wrote in their application.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with students promoting a more respectful environment free from bullying. Homophobia and bullying are real and can have a tremendously negative impact on the well-being of students. I wish them the best of luck in pushing for civility.

But a drag show with kids or for kids is not appropriate. That’s not a criticism of the children, but of their adult enablers.

Who would step in to keep the performance from getting too sexual?

Performances are usually for adult audiences because the usual nature of drag performances is highly sexualized. Even the controversial Drag Queen Story Hour events keep the performative nature of most drag shows at bay.

Can this event avoid the hypersexualization of children? Sure. But what if it doesn’t?

Which adult will stop a child from fully committing to the performance? Activists automatically label any criticism of drag as hateful. A district school board member owns a sex shop promoted as “all ages.” This district isn’t run by reasonable adults when it comes to sex. And that adults gave the green light on funds for a drag show confirms that point. Perhaps it’s why none will even explain their decision to the media.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3–6 pm on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz  on  Twitter,  Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. Check back frequently for more news and analysis.

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Rantz: District awards middle schoolers $2,000 for student drag show