In an address to all students, faculty, and staff at West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler canceled a student drag show organized by several campus student clubs including members of the Secular Student Alliance. The show and its proceeds were organized to raise funds for the Trevor Project.
While President Wendler stated raising funds for the LGBTQ+ suicide prevention hotline was a noble effort, he falsely likened drag to blackface, claiming that the art form is misogynistic, divisive, and void of human dignity. Wendler also cited his personal religious beliefs and evoked God and Creator multiple times in his justification for canceling the fundraiser.
First and foremost, President Wendler’s personal religious beliefs and biblical references have no place in justifying the cancellation of the event. West Texas A&M University is a public institution and the wall of the separation of state and church remains standing.
Drag is not harmful. Drag is not misogynistic. Blackface is inherently racist.
Drag is all about the celebration of human dignity. Drag, probably more than any other cultural performance, exposes how much of femininity and gender overall is socially constructed. Drag is about strong, powerful, admirable female characters, and Drag disassembles an imbalance of power. President Wendlers’ religious dogma and patriarchal hegemony have no place in higher learning.
The students of West Texas A&M do not support the President’s actions and are signing a petition demanding the drag show be reinstated. “Drag is not dangerous or discriminatory, it is a celebration and expression of individuals,” said student Signe Elder on the petition. “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.”
“Drag is not a mockery – it is a celebration. Drag is a celebration of many things; queerness, gender, acceptance, love, and especially femininity. To call it mockery or misogynistic is to miss the entire point of what drag is, and what drag means,” said Lauren Stovall, student president of the WT Secular Student Alliance and vice president of WT Spectrum.
In 2019, Texas lawmakers passed a law that required universities to allow any person to engage in free-speech activities on campuses. The bill states “Freedom of expression is of critical importance and requires each public institution of higher education to ensure free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberations by students enrolled at the institution.”
The Expressive Activity on Campus policy at West Texas A&M states “The university may not take action against a student organization or deny the organization any benefit generally available to other student organizations at the university on the basis of a political, religious, philosophical, ideological, or academic viewpoint expressed by the organization or of any expressive activities of the organization.”
“Not only has President Wendler violated state law and university policies, he has clearly violated the First Amendment by using his personal religious beliefs to cancel a student event at a public university. He used his religion to cause harm to LGBTQ+ students and the larger community,” said Kevin Bolling, executive director of the Secular Student Alliance. “Wendler has also inserted an institution of high education into the conservative political quagmire and aligned the university with the rhetoric of far-right extremist groups.”
The Secular Student Alliance supports WT Spectrum and the LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff at West Texas A&M University. Please make a donation to the Trevor Project.