Texas University President Cancels ‘Misogynistic’ Drag Performance, Compares it to ‘Blackface’
The president of West Texas A&M University canceled a student-run drag show on Monday, arguing that the performances are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.” The event had been scheduled for later this month as a fundraiser for the LGBT crisis intervention group The Trevor Project. University president Walter Wendler encouraged students in a letter to donate to the nonprofit but said he would “not support ‘blackface’ performances” on campus.
“Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not,” Wendler wrote in a letter condemning drag performances.
“As a performance exaggerating aspects of womanhood (sexuality, femininity, gender), drag shows stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood. Any event which diminishes an individual or group through such representation is wrong.”
The university president emailed his comments to students and faculty on Tuesday. He cited his faith as a Christian and his love of his granddaughters as reasons he would not condone the performances mocking women. “Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent,” he wrote.
Wendler also stated in the letter that, as a university president, he would “not support ‘blackface’ performances” on his campus, “even if told the performance is a form of free speech or intended as humor.”
It is wrong. I do not support any show, performance or artistic expression which denigrates others… Mocking or objectifying in any way members of any group based on appearance, bias or predisposition is unacceptable. Forward-thinking women and men have worked together for nearly two centuries to eliminate sexism. Women have fought valiantly, seeking equality in the voting booth, marketplace and court of public opinion. No one should claim a right to contribute to women’s suffering via a slapstick sideshow that erodes the worth of women.
Wendler added that “No amount of fancy rhetorical footwork or legal wordsmithing eludes the fact that drag shows denigrate and demean women—noble goals notwithstanding.”
A harmless drag show? Not possible. I will not appear to condone the diminishment of any group at the expense of impertinent gestures toward another group for any reason.
LGBT activists immediately denounced Wendler’s letter. Dozens of students gathered on campus Tuesday, holding rainbow-patterned signs with slogans such as “Drag is art,” and “Don’t drag us down.” A Change.com petition demanding the event be reinstated garnered almost 9,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning. A top comment on the petition written by an alumni reads,
“In support of my transgender child and everyone’s transgender child.”
Protesters argue that Wendler’s decision is a violation of the First Amendment. The nonprofit civil liberties group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) wrote in a statement that,
Wendler’s callous disregard for students’ rights is not a good — nor constitutional — look from a university president… as a government actor, President Wendler cannot co-opt state power to force his own views on the WTAMU community.
Students reportedly still plan to host the event without the university’s permission. It is unclear if the university is planning to take any further action.
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