The president said the drag shows “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood.”
Students are ticked at West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler because he canceled a student drag show. He thinks drag shows degrade women while describing the shows as “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”
Students and First Amendment lawyers reject those assertions, calling his comments a mischaracterization of the art form. They also argue that the cancellation violates students’ constitutional rights and a state law that broadly protects free speech on college campuses, potentially setting the university up for a lawsuit.
“Not only is this a gross and abhorrent comparison of two completely different topics, but it is also an extremely distorted and incorrect definition of drag as a culture and form of performance art,” students wrote in an online petition condemning Wendler’s letter and urging him to reinstate the show.
Students plan to protest every day this week on the campus in the small West Texas city of Canyon, according to a social media post by the Open and Affirming Congregations of the Texas Panhandle.
“Drag is not dangerous or discriminatory, it is a celebration and expression of individuals,” student Signe Elder said in a statement. “Amidst the current climate of growing anti-trans and anti-drag rhetoric, we believe that it is important now more than ever to stand together and be heard.”
Elder is part of a group of students who have organized under the name Buffs for Drag, referring to the school’s buffalo mascot, to protest Wendler’s actions.
Drag shows frequently feature men dressing as women in exaggerated styles and have been a mainstay in the LGBTQ community for decades. Drag performers say their work is an expression of queer joy — and a form of constitutionally protected speech about societal gender norms.
But Wendler said drag shows “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood” in a Monday letter that was first obtained by Amarillo news site MyHighPlains.com. Wendler said the drag show was organized to raise money for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to reduce suicides in the LGBTQ community. Wendler noted that it is a “noble cause” but argued the shows would be considered an act of workplace prejudice because they make fun of women.
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