*photo credit: Michael Cuviello/Amarillo Globe-News/AP
As more legislation pops up around the country aimed at banning drag performances, one Texas university student club is taking a stand. After having their student drag show canceled last Monday by their university president, LGBTQ+ student organization Spectrum WT has filed a federal lawsuit against West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler and other university leaders to “protect the First Amendment rights of students at WTAMU.”
In a social media post on Instagram Friday, Spectrum WT announced that their organization’s president and vice president had filed the lawsuit against university President Walter Wendler. The LGBTQ+ student group had been preparing to host a student drag show on March 31 called “A Fool’s Drag Show”. The show would feature student performances and raise funds for LGBTQ+ youth nonprofit The Trevor Project.
The event was canceled by President Wendler, with the school administrator claiming that drag shows were harmful and “discriminate against womanhood.” Wendler also compared drag shows to Blackface.
“A harmless drag show? Not possible,” Wendler stated in an email to the school and in his professional blog. “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.”
President Wendler’s remarks have garnered backlash from students, alumni, and advocates. The students of Spectrum WT released a statement on March 21 via Instagram against the cancellation, stating that “drag is not designed to be offensive”. But rather that the artform is a celebration of “queerness, gender, love, acceptance, and especially femininity.”
Spectrum WT released two more statements expanding on what their event’s next steps were, informing supporters on how they can offer their assistance, and dispelling rumors. Finally, they issued a statement last Friday that a lawsuit had been filed.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the US District Court within the Northern District of Texas, is specifically against President Wendler, West Texas A&M’s vice president for student affairs Chistopher Thomas, Texas A&M University system chancellor John Sharp, and the Texas A&M university system’s board of regents.
“In a published edict, President Wendler barred a recognized student group, Spectrum WT, from exercising its clear First Amendment right to put on a PG-13 charity drag show at a campus event hall with the aim of raising funds for LGBTQ+ suicide prevention,” Spectrum WT’s 45-page lawsuit reads.
Now, Spectrum WT is requesting that the court stop the university from preventing their drag show taking place on March 31. Additionally, the plaintiffs are seeking damages and attorneys’ fees from the school administration.
“President Wendler’s edict canceling the student group’s charity drag show is textbook viewpoint discrimination,” Spectrum WT stated in their lawsuit. “Of course, as a private citizen, President Wendler enjoys the First Amendment right to criticize expression he finds offensive, distasteful, or immoral. But as a public official, he cannot bar Spectrum WT and its members from exercising their First Amendment rights merely because he believes his personal opinions override the Constitution.”
This student drag show cancellation joins the growing list of anti-LGBTQ+ attacks. Numerous states, including Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Utah, North Dakota, Idaho, Kentucky, and Montana, have either considered or implemented legislation that ban drag performances.
Governor Bill Lee’s recent signing of HB 9 and SB 3 made any person who engages in an “adult cabaret performance” on public property or in front minors liable for a criminal offense. The definition of “adult cabaret performance” includes: drag performers, topless dancers, go-go dancers, and similar entertainers.
Many are actively combating the rise of anti-drag and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Spectrum WT is doing the same, with fighting against President Wendler’s decision to cancel their show. A Change.org petition with over 12,000 signatures was released and the LGBTQ+ student group is raising funds to now cover expenses incurred from the stalled performance, with unused funds being donated to The Trevor Project.