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Texas university students protest drag show’s cancellation

Mar 22, 2023, 3:14 PM

More than 50 people gathered Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas...

More than 50 people gathered Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas, to protest the university president's decision to cancel a drag show on campus. (Michael Cuviello/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Michael Cuviello/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)

CANYON, Texas (AP) — Protests continued Wednesday at a university in the Texas Panhandle after the school’s president said a planned campus drag show wouldn’t be allowed and expressed the view that such events “discriminate against womanhood.”

Dozens of students gathered for the protests for a second day at West Texas A&M University, located in Canyon, just south of Amarillo. The students have been waving gay pride flags and holding signs that included the sayings “Women for Drag,” “Drag is Rad” and “Everybody Say Love.”

In a Tuesday opinion column laden with religious references, the university’s president, Walter Wendler, wrote that “drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.” He also wrote that “drag shows stereotype women in cartoonlike extremes for the amusement of others.”

In recent months, drag shows across the country have been targeted by right-wing activists and politicians, with Republican lawmakers in several states, including Texas, proposing restrictions on the shows. And events like drag story hours, where drag queens read books to children, have drawn protesters.

WT Spectrum, a student organization for LGBTQIA students and allies, was recruiting participants for the March 31 drag show as a way to raise money for the Trevor Project, a group that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ young people.

In an Instagram post, WT Spectrum wrote that drag isn’t designed to be offensive, adding that it’s a celebration of many things, including “queerness, gender, acceptance, love and especially femininity.” The group asked that Wendler reinstate the show, apologize and step down from his post.

The group said in an Instagram post Wednesday that it still hoped to hold the show on March 31, but it wasn’t yet sure where it would be held. The group said that it was talking with supporters and venues in the area.

Students supporting the show included Signe Elder, who called drag “an expression of self and of joy.” She told KFDA television station: “I think if you don’t like drag, you don’t have to come to the show.”

Other students said they agreed with Wendler’s stance. Alejandro Rivera told KAMR television station that as a Christian, he doesn’t hate anyone but thinks that if the show had been allowed “we would see our society kind of become like degenerates almost.”

Rachel Hill, government affairs director of Equality Texas, said “drag has always been a way for people who don’t easily fit into the gender binary to embrace different facets of themselves. Womanhood comes in all shapes and sizes and is what we make of it. That’s what makes drag so powerful.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, a national civil liberties group, wrote in a letter to Wendler that “drag shows, like other forms of theatrical performance, are expressive conduct shielded from government censorship.”

In his column, Wendler also compared drag shows to someone performing in blackface, saying he would also not support performances of people in blackface. Blackface dates back to the 1800s when white men would darken their faces to create caricatures of Black people.

“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,” wrote Wendler, who noted that he does recommend supporting the Trevor Project.

University spokeswoman Kelly Carper Polden said Wednesday that they could not comment “due to pending litigation.” She did not respond immediately to a question on who might be filing a lawsuit.

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Texas university students protest drag show’s cancellation