Citing his faith, Texas university president cancels drag show fundraiser
"Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not," wrote West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler
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On Monday, West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler sent an email to students and staff announcing the cancellation of an upcoming drag show fundraiser to benefit The Trevor Project (which helps LGBTQ kids).
Several student groups, including the Secular Student Alliance, were organizing “A Fool’s Drag Race” and the campus LGBTQ group Spectrum was in the process of signing up performers when Wendler’s statement was released.
His statement compared drag to blackface, which was bad enough, but Wendler also said he was driven to do this by his Christian faith because he believed drag shows defied human dignity:
I believe every human being is created in the image of God and, therefore, a person of dignity. Being created in God’s image is the basis of Natural Law. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, prisoners of the culture of their time as are we, declared the Creator’s origin as the foundational fiber in the fabric of our nation as they breathed life into it.
Does a drag show preserve a single thread of human dignity? I think not. 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.
WT endeavors to treat all people equally. Drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent. Such conduct runs counter to the purpose of WT. A person or group should not attempt to elevate itself or a cause by mocking another person or group. As a university president, 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. I do not support any show, performance or artistic expression which denigrates others—in this case, women—for any reason…
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, even when the law of the land appears to require it. Supporting The Trevor Project is a good idea. My recommendation is to skip the show and send the dough.
The idea that Wendler respects women and LGBTQ people because he’s a Christian is laughable given how conservative Christians in Texas have weaponized their faith in order to harm those very communities. They have effectively banned abortions in the state while driving out the doctors best equipped to work with them. They’ve banned books that cover LGBTQ-related issues while remaining one of the worst states for LGBTQ equality.
And, of course, the idea of drag isn’t anti-women. It’s a longstanding celebration of self-expression and personal empowerment. (Unlike blackface, the goal isn’t to denigrate people.)
If you’re looking for people who want to harm women, you won’t find them at a drag show; you’ll find them in the state legislature.
For Wendler to compare drag to blackface reveals his ignorance of both subjects.
All this comes at a time when Republicans are demonizing drag queens, banning drag performances, and claiming drag queens are predators who must be stopped, all while turning a blind eye to the actual problems in their midst.
The drag show scheduled for March 31 was a student-run event at a public university. It shouldn’t be stopped because of the religious beliefs of the school’s president. Urging people to donate to The Trevor Project while simultaneously perpetuating anti-LGBTQ talking points in the name of Jesus is an utterly despicable move from Wendler.
A petition to save the drag show has already generated thousands of supporters:
… Furthermore, as Section 1.3 of Rule 08.99.99.W1 WTAMU Expressive Activity on Campus 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 any expressive activities of the organization." By suspending this drag show, Dr. Wendler is violating university policy.
We, the students of WTAMU, hope to bring this issue to Dr. Wendler's attention and urge him to reinstate the drag show on-campus. We are holding this drag show whether we have his support or not, but his extreme lack of compassion for the LGBT+ and activist student population on campus shows with this latest e-mail.
The university wouldn’t respond to a local newspaper about that infraction of school policy, citing “pending litigation.” More details on that potential lawsuit weren’t made public.
None of this is surprising, though, because Wendler has done this before:
When he was chancellor of Southern Illinois University, he was criticized for pushing back on the board’s decision to extend certain medical benefits to same-sex partners, saying the measure would encourage “sinful behavior,” according to a local newspaper at the time.
“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.”
One graduate has taken a different approach altogether, cutting the school out of his will. Nathan Russell had planned to leave $100,000 to the WTAMU School of Music. That’ll now go elsewhere. He wrote in his letter, “Wendler's column is incendiary, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and an egregious affront to me as a clergy person who is unapologetically gay.”
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