A federal judge has ruled that West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler did not violate the First Amendment when canceling a drag show at the university.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk states that Wendler’s decision to cancel the show was not ‘objectively unreasonable.’ Kacsmaryk contended that Wendler knew of potential lewdness, which is prohibited under school policy. Additionally, since the group had advised Wendler that the event would be open to children, Kacsmaryk indicated that this strengthened Wendler’s argument for canceling the event.
“The First Amendment does not prevent school officials from restricting ‘vulgar and lewd’ conduct that would ‘undermine the school’s basic education mission’—particularly in settings where children are physically present,” wrote Kacsmaryk.
Furthermore, Kacsmaryk denied the plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief, saying that they are unlikely to suffer irreparable harm in the coming months while the issue is being litigated.
Earlier this year, a pro-LGBT group planned to host “A Fool’s Drag Race” on campus. The event was rated PG-13 and advertised as a fundraiser for The Trevor Project, a controversial nonprofit focused on LGBT youth suicide prevention.
Once Wendler heard about the event, he emailed students, faculty, and staff that the event was canceled and said the university would “not host a drag show on campus.”
“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, further comparing drag shows to “blackface.”
Following Wendler’s announcement, WTAMU’s LGBT organization, Spectrum, 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 students were represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which claims to promote the “value of free speech for all Americans.”
Shortly after the ruling was released, FIRE issued a statement saying they strongly disagreed with the ruling and will appeal.
“FIRE strongly disagrees with the court’s approach to First Amendment analysis and its conclusions,” said FIRE Senior Attorney JT Morris. “We will appeal, and our fight for the expressive rights of these brave college students will continue.”
WTAMU spokesperson Kelly Polden told Texas Scorecard they cannot comment on pending litigation.