After West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler canceled a drag show on school property, a pro-drag student group is now accusing him of violating their First Amendment rights.
In an email sent to students, faculty, and staff last week, Wendler announced that the planned “A Fool’s Drag Race,” set to be held at the university’s campus event hall, was canceled.
Wendler also condemned drag shows, which often feature men crossdressing as women.
“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,” said Wendler. “Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent. Such conduct runs counter to the purpose of WT,” he added, comparing drag shows to “blackface.”
The “PG-13” event was advertised as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project, a controversial nonprofit focused on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention. However, The Trevor Project also offers advice about sexual orientation and gender identity and hosts online chats between LGBTQ teens and adults ages 13-24.
Last year, a mom looking for help for her child said she discovered a “Pandora’s box” of inappropriate content in The Trevor Project’s chat room—including adults pushing kids toward gender transitions, giving advice on how to hide transitions from parents, and describing sex acts and fetishes.
Following Wendler’s announcement, pro-drag show students started a petition to “Save the WTAMU Drag Show,” which currently has more than 12,000 signatures.
“The shunning of this performance constitutes an indirect attack on the LGBT+, feminist, and activist communities of the WTAMU student body by targeting an event that is meant to support an LGBT+ charity,” wrote the students.
WTAMU’s LGBT organization, Spectrum, which planned the show, and two of the group’s student leaders filed a lawsuit against Wendler, WTAMU’s Vice President for Student Affairs Christopher Thomas, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, and several members of the university system’s board of regents.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which claims to promote the “value of free speech for all Americans” is representing the students.
FIRE filed a temporary restraining order against Wendler late last week to prevent him and other university employees from banning the drag show.
The lawsuit asserts that the First Amendment prevents Wendler from canceling the drag show based on his personal beliefs, citing a sentence in Wendler’s university-wide email where he states, “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.”
According to FIRE, Wendler’s email is evidence that he knowingly violated the Constitution.
“Of course, as a private citizen, President Wendler enjoys the First Amendment right to criticize expression he finds offensive, distasteful, or immoral,” reads the lawsuit. “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.”
Trump-appointed Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk will oversee the case in Amarillo’s U.S. District Court.