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To protest a Texas university's anti-drag president, Andrew Seidel spoke there in drag
"I feel a little fabulous, but I don’t feel much like a threat,” Seidel explained
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Andrew Seidel, the constitutional attorney who works with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, delivered a large portion of a lecture today in drag to make the point that cross-dressing “is not a threat” to anyone.
During a speech Wednesday afternoon to the West Texas A&M University’s chapter of the Secular Student Alliance, the author of American Crusade: How the Supreme Court Is Weaponizing Religious Freedom (affiliate link) began his protest after discussing the importance of the wall between church and state. Seidel brought up the dangers of Christian Nationalism and made the point that this very university’s president had been part of the problem when he banned a perfectly legal drag show fundraiser earlier this year claiming that such an art form was “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.” (More on that later.)
When did drag cross the line from harmless to harmful?, Seidel wondered aloud in the speech.
He was wearing a pink shirt and tie. Was that a problem?
What if he wore an earring? (“Is this a threat?”)
What if he wore a rainbow feathered boa? (“Am I a threat now?”)
What if he put on a skirt?
What if, like the Founding Fathers, he wore stockings?
Seidel then put on heels to make the final point: “I don’t feel much like a threat. I feel a little fabulous. But I don’t feel much like a threat.”
(The full speech can be viewed below. The drag portion begins around the 28:20 mark.)
Seidel later explained that drag isn’t shouldn’t be a concern for anyone: “Drag is art. Drag is human. Drag is beautiful,” he said. But as we know by now, anything that calls into question the gender binary or the conservative Christian idea of what men ought to look like is perceived as a threat by people who don’t know any better.
Seidel’s protest came in response to a controversy earlier this year when West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler sent an email to students and staff announcing the cancellation of a drag show fundraiser meant to benefit The Trevor Project (which helps LGBTQ kids).
Several student groups, including the Secular Student Alliance, were organizing “A Fool’s Drag Race.” The campus LGBTQ group Spectrum was in the process of signing up performers when Wendler’s statement was released.
And what a statement it was.
Wendler compared drag to blackface and said he was driven to act 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 respected women and LGBTQ people because he’s a Christian was 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 wasn’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. Wendler’s attempt to compare drag to blackface revealed his ignorance of both subjects. All that came at a time when Republicans were demonizing drag queens, banning drag performances, and claiming drag queens were predators who needed to be stopped, all while turning a blind eye to the actual problems in their midst.
The drag show in question was a student-run event at a public university. It shouldn’t have been 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 was an utterly despicable move from Wendler.
It wasn’t entirely surprising, though. When Wendler was chancellor of Southern Illinois University, he criticized the university’s board for extending health benefits to same-sex partners of employees, claiming the move would promote “sinful behavior.”
The move had repercussions as well: Nathan Russell had planned to leave $100,000 to the WTAMU School of Music. But after Wendler’s outburst, he announced his money would go somewhere else, writing in a letter, “Wendler's column is incendiary, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and an egregious affront to me as a clergy person who is unapologetically gay.”
There was a lawsuit over this whole matter, but in September, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, one of the most MAGA-friendly extremists on the federal bench, predictably sided with the university, saying Wendler acted “within his authority” when he banned the drag show.
Seidel brought up Kacsmaryk’s extremism in his closing remarks:
You are right. You have a right to host a drag show. You have a right to dress in drag. You are right… Wendler is wrong. Kacsmaryk is wrong. The Fifth Circuit… [is] likely going to get this appeal wrong…
I’m here to tell you, whatever these men say, you are right. And I will link arms and fight alongside you.
In drag if necessary.
The school has not yet issued any statements acknowledging the drag performance on campus.