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A Texas university president banned drag and compared it to blackface. Students are taking the case to the Supreme Court

Texas AM University Flag Drag Queens Performing Benefit Show

The school’s religious president characterized drag shows as misogynistic and compared them to blackface performances.

A group of students in Texas has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an injunction allowing them to hold a charity drag show later this month.

Represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the LGBTQ+ student organization Spectrum WT and two of its leaders filed suit in federal court last April against West Texas A&M University and its president Walter Wendler.

The original lawsuit claims Wendler and the university violated the group’s First Amendment rights when it banned the group from holding a drag performance in March of 2023 to benefit The Trevor Project, which provides support for LGBTQ+ youth considering death by suicide.

In September a district court denied the group’s motion for an injunction. An appeal was filed, but oral arguments are not scheduled until April, meaning Spectrum WT would miss another scheduled performance.

FIRE said the student drag show is protected speech, and that the university president allowed his personal religious beliefs to improperly influence his decision to ban the drag show from university grounds and facilities.

“Whether it’s a fiery political speech, Bible study, or drag performance, the First Amendment protects student groups from public university administrators who want to silence speech simply because it offends them,” FIRE said in a statement announcing the emergency appeal. “Yet, that’s exactly what West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler did last March, invoking his personal views to cancel student group Spectrum WT’s PG-13 drag show intended to raise funds and awareness for suicide prevention. Wendler declared ‘West Texas A&M will not host a drag show,’ and stated he did not care that ‘the law of the land appears to require’ him to let the show go on.”

In a blog post explaining his decision, Wendler attacked drag shows in general as misogynistic and demeaning to women.

“Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not,” Wendler wrote at the time. “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.”

Wendler then applied the plaintiffs’ free speech argument to students performing a racially offensive show.

“I would not support ‘blackface’ performances on our campus, even if told the performance is a form of free speech or intended as humor. It is wrong,” Wendler wrote in his post. “I do not support any show, performance or artistic expression which denigrates others—in this case, women—for any reason.”

Wendler did have nothing but praise for The Trevor Project and its goals, describing support for the group as “a good idea.” His advice to students, however, was to “skip the show and send the dough” directly to the group.

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